Autoimmune Drugs for Potential COVID-19 Treatment

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What are the available interferons?

  • interferon alfa-2a (Roferon-A)
  • interferon alfa-2b (Intron-A )
  • interferon alfa-n3 (Alferon-N)
  • peginterferon alfa-2b (PegIntron , Sylatron)
  • interferon beta-1a (Avonex )
  • interferon beta-1a (Rebif)
  • interferon beta-1b (Betaseron)
  • interferon beta-1b (Extavia)
  • interferon gamma-1b (Actimmune )
  • peginterferon alfa-2a (Pegasys ProClick)
  • peginterferon alfa-2a and ribavirin (Peginterferon)
  • peginterferon alfa-2b and ribavirin (PegIntron/Rebetol Combo Pack)
  • peginterferon beta-1a (Plegridy)
  • interferon alfacon-1 (Infergen has been discontinued in the US)

Can interferons treat COVID-19 coronavirus disease?

Interferon beta-1a, currently in use to treat multiple sclerosis, and interferon alfa-2b are both under investigation as potential treatments for people with COVID-19 coronavirus disease, the deadly respiratory pandemic caused by the SARS-nCoV-2 virus.

  • Essentially, when confronted with a virus, each cell shoots an emergency flare of interferon to tell the immune system to marshall its defenses.
  • Interferon Beta 1a, specifically, activates macrophages that engulf antigens and natural killer cells (NK cells), a type of immune T-Cell. 
  • Those cells are integral in the innate immune system.
  • The theory is, interferon may be able to make the immune system stronger by turning on dormant parts and directing them toward the defense against SARS-nCoV-2’s assault.

The problem is, when interferons ramp up the immune system, COVID-19’s flu-like symptoms are likely to become worse before they get better; interferon naturally occurring in the body is responsible for all flu-like symptoms to begin with, whether you have the coronavirus or a common cold. 

So, if someone is already on a ventilator and symptoms are about to overwhelm them, giving them an interferon-based medicine could be catastrophic. This is why interferon therapies for viral infections are typically a last resort — the potential for dire side effects.

Studies around the world, including a huge WHO study, are looking at different interferons to treat COVID-19 coronavirus, but no existing COVID-19 drug trials in the U.S. included interferons as of April 7, 2020. 

It is possible there is a hesitance to use interferon in America because it was used in the late 1990s and early 2000s to treat Hepatitis C, and its side effects caused a lot of injury to U.S. patients.

Clinicians were lucky if they saw a 30% cure rate treating Hep C with interferon, but the side effects were severe, including: 

  • Drop in white blood cell levels,
  • liver problems, and
  • psychiatric issues.

People would become suicidal, fall into deep depressions.

Data for COVID-19 section provided by Dominic Chan, a Pharm. D. and infectious disease specialist at Legacy Health System in Oregon.



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