Interferons May Hold Key to Covid-19 Medication

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Interferons May Hold Key to Covid-19 Medication

A new discovery in the development of a Covid-19 medication has researchers looking at a substance called interferon, or rather the lack thereof.  Interferons are a group of proteins that respond to viruses.  Typically, cells infected with a virus will release these interferons triggering any nearby cells to boost their anti-viral capabilities.

There is now significant evidence that a minority of Covid-19 patients become seriously sick because this response is not triggering.  Shane Crotty, a professor in the Center for Infectious Disease and Vaccine Research at the La Jolla Institute for Immunology in California says, “It looks like this virus is one big trick.  That big trick is to avoid the initial innate immune response for a significant period of time and, in particular, avoid an early type-1 interferon response.”

This theory is now more prevalent in the battle against Covid-19 with plenty of new studies starting surrounding interferon treatment. The head of the genomic technologies and immuno-genomics group at Radboud University Medical Center in Nijmegen Alexander Hoischen said, “We think timing may be essential because it’s only in the very early phase one can really battle the virus particles and defend against infection”.

Yuen Kwok-Yung, chair of infectious diseases in the University of Hong Kong’s department of microbiology, believes that the presence of these proteins has a major bearing on how severe symptoms are for patients.  “The SARS-CoV-2 virus has anti-interferon genes which can stop or antagonize the production or effect of interferon,” he said.  If the response from interferons is delayed, other parts of the body’s immune system will kick into gear causing severe symptoms – such as lung inflammation. 

It’s now known that some people are having an issue with their own antibodies “deactivating” their interferon.  In a study of 987 patients, interferon-blocking antibodies appeared in 101 patients with severe symptoms, whereas none of the 663 patients with mild symptoms had these results.  In addition, patients over 65 years old were more likely to have the issue.  The researchers led by Jean-Laurent Casanova, head of Rockefeller University’s St. Giles Laboratory of Human Genetics of Infectious Diseases in New York said, “These findings provide a first explanation for the excess of men among patients with life-threatening Covid-19 and the increase in risk with age.  They also provide a means of identifying individuals at risk of developing life-threatening Covid-19.”

This is a developing story, be sure to check back with the ABN Blog regularly.