Treatment with interferon-α-2b could speed COVID-19 recovery


An exploratory study published in Frontiers in Immunology has demonstrated the benefits of interferon treatment for patients with COVID-19. Upon treating a cohort of patients with interferon(IFN)-α-2b, the multi-institutional team of researchers observed improved viral clearance and reduced blood levels of inflammatory proteins, suggesting the potential for an effective antiviral intervention for COVID-19.

“Interferons are our first line of defense against any and all viruses – but viruses such as coronaviruses have co-evolved to very specifically block an interferon response,” explained lead author Eleanor Fish (Toronto General Hospital Research Institute & University of Toronto, Canada).

This led the researchers to consider the importance of interferons in overriding the inhibitory effects of the virus. Following on from a previous clinical study during the SARS outbreak of 2002–2003, the authors considered testing IFN-α-2b as a therapy for COVID-19.

In this study, the team examined the course of disease in a cohort of 77 individuals with moderate cases of COVID-19, who were admitted to Union Hospital (Shanghai, China) between 16 January and 20 February 2020.

The patients were grouped to receive either IFN-α-2b, arbidol (a broad-spectrum antiviral) or a combination of both treatments. The researchers defined viral clearance as two consecutive negative tests at least 24 hours apart.

The team observed a significantly different rate of viral clearance from the upper respiratory tract for each group, with IFN-α-2b treatment, both alone and in combination with arbidol, significantly accelerating viral clearance compared with arbidol treatment alone. Further, the IFN treatment reduced circulating levels of inflammatory proteins interleukin-6 and C-reactive protein. These results were observed regardless of age, sex and co-morbidities.

This study is the first to suggest that IFN-α-2b treatment could be beneficial in slowing the tide of the pandemic.

“Rather than developing a virus-specific antiviral for each new virus outbreak, I would argue that we should consider interferons as the ‘first responders’ in terms of treatment. Interferons have been approved for clinical use for many years, so the strategy would be to ‘repurpose’ them for severe acute virus infections,” commented Fish, who recommends a larger, randomized clinical trial testing IFN-α-2b against a placebo as a crucial next step.

You might also like:

Sources: Zhou Q, Chen V, Shannon C et al. Interferon-α2b Treatment for COVID-19. Front. Immunol. doi:10.3389/fimmu.2020.01061 (2020);

Want weekly updates straight to your inbox? Become a member of Infectious Diseases Hub.


Leave A Comment