A previously known antiviral drug can speed up recovery of COVID-19 patients, a recent study has found in what may be called an advance that may help slow down the tide of the pandemic across the world.
According to the study, treatment with the drug interferon (IFN) — a2b may significantly accelerate virus clearance and reduce levels of inflammatory proteins in COVID-19 patients. It has been published in the journal Frontiers in Immunology.
Interferons are a group of proteins released by the human body in response to all viruses. They are signalling molecules which help in communication between cells and tissues, and are the “first line of defense”.
In the current study, the researchers assessed the effectiveness of the drug in a group of 77 patients with COVID-19 in Wuhan, China. None of the patients required intensive care or prolonged oxygen supplementation or intubation, the study noted.
Scientists found that treatment with this drug which has been in clinical use for many years, significantly reduced the duration of detectable virus in the upper respiratory tract on average by about seven days.
The drug also reduced blood levels of the immune system molecules interleukin(IL)-6, and C-reactive protein (CRP), which are involved in the inflammatory response to the viral infection in patients.
Interferons, the study noted, work by targeting the different stages of a virus’ life cycle, inhibiting them from multiplying, and also boost an ongoing immune response to pathogens by activating different immune cells to clear the infection.
However, some viruses can block this natural defense mechanism. But, researchers added, if a virus blocks interferon production, then treating with interferon can offset this.