Amazon is trying to develop a vaccine against the common cold, CNBC reports. The secretive project is part of an Amazon unit that, like Alphabet’s X, is trying to find solutions to big problems outside of the company’s traditional wheelhouse.
The sheer number of viruses that cause the common cold, coupled with the rate at which they mutate, has deterred many research groups from trying to find treatments or vaccines for the condition. To add to the challenge, the relatively benign, short-lived symptoms associated with the common cold mean a product will likely need a squeaky clean safety and tolerability profile to gain acceptance.
Yet, with one analysis putting the annual cost of the common cold to the U.S. economy in lost productivity at $25 billion, there is potentially a significant opportunity for a company with a product that strikes the careful balance needed to succeed in the space. Amazon wants to be that company.
The Seattle-based e-commerce giant has reportedly tasked a small team at its 100-person Grand Challenge unit, the R&D division code-named 1492, with working on ways to tackle the common cold. Amazon is aiming to develop a vaccine against the common cold, but it is also exploring other ways of curbing the impact the condition has on society.
Exactly how Amazon is approaching the challenge, and how much money it is committing, remains unknown, with the company yet to publicly acknowledge the existence of Grand Challenge, let alone the common cold research group.
In recent years, researchers at groups other than Amazon have published papers about possible ways to treat and prevent the common cold. For example, in 2016 the authors of a paper in Nature Communications linked the administration of a polyvalent inactivated rhinovirus vaccine to the inducement of virus-neutralizing antibodies in monkeys. However, none of the projects has matured to the point that a vaccine against or treatment for the common cold is on the horizon.