Ever since the accidental discovery of penicillin, we've had ways of being able to deal with bacterial infections. With viral infections, like when you get a cold, all we can really do is suck it up and treat the symptoms, but a new type of drug may be able to tackle any virus, even the ones we haven't met yet.
Most antiviral drugs are designed to target very specific things. And not just specific viruses, but specific aspects of those viruses, which is why antivirals don't work very well (or at all) on viruses that mutate rapidly like HIV, since it doesn't take very long for the virus to out-evolve whatever we've come up with to deal with it.
Scientists at Lincoln Laboratory's Chemical, Biological, and Nanoscale Technologies Group have come up with a brand new drug called DRACO (sinister, right?) that seems to be able to hunt down and destroy any and all viruses. Period. DRACOs don't care whether viruses mutate or not, or whether it's ever seen them before, and they have absolutely no mercy.
Here's how it works: when a virus infects one of your cells, it hijacks the cell's guts and reprograms them to make more little baby viruses. As it's doing this, the virus creates long strings of double-stranded RNA, which you won't find in healthy, non-infected cells. DRACOs contain proteins that bind to these RNA strands, and when it finds them, it sets off other proteins in the DRACO that instructs the cell itself to commit suicide.
This is a fairly violent way to go about attacking viruses, but it's effective: DRACOs only work on cells that have already been infected, leaving healthy cells alone. And since DRACOs aren't actually targeting viruses, but rather our own cells, it's going to be a lot harder for viruses to evolve resistance. What we're talking about here is a cure (not just a treatment, but a cure) for everything from SARS to polio to the common cold.
So far, tests have shown that DRACOs are extremely effective (and entirely non-toxic) in mice, and the next step is to test it in larger animals, followed by a clinical trial in humans. Drug testing usually takes forever (for safety and all that), but let's see if we can hurry this one up, shall we?