MSCOVID19 The beta interferon experience


As you may realise I don’t report to much on CRAB drugs, because I am not a big fan. Sure they are useful for some people but for many they do not work well enough. We all know this because pharma do trials against them these days, There they know their new-kid-on-the-block drug will do better. You know my opinions about this.

However there is some good news in relation to COVID-19. Interferons are called interferons because they interfere with viral replication and when you are infected you may interferon alpha and beta. It has been shown that a insufficiently effective interferon alpha response can be associated with more severe COVID-19 and so it should come as no surprise that beta interferon may have some benefits. This has been suggested from studies in Italy.

What do the manufacturers have to say

Freedman MS, Jack D, Murgašová Z, Todorović M, Seitzinger A. Outcomes of COVID-19 among patients treated with subcutaneous interferon beta-1a for multiple sclerosis. Mult Scler Relat Disord. 2021 Sep 28;56:103283.

Background: In accordance with expert guidance, patients have typically continued to receive treatment with subcutaneous interferon beta-1a (sc IFN β-1a) for relapsing multiple sclerosis (MS) during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Methods: We provide a summary of outcomes among sc IFN β-1a-treated patients with adverse events related to confirmed or suspected COVID-19, as reported to the Merck Global Patient Safety Database (as of 2 February 2021). Serious COVID-19-related adverse events (as classified by the reporting clinician) included those leading to hospitalization, admission to intensive care, or death. Outcomes were classified per usual pharmacovigilance practice.

Results: The evaluable cohort comprised 603 patients of median age 43 (range, 13-84) years and 75.1% were female. COVID-19 was experienced at a median of 33.0 (range, 0-321.8) months after start of treatment with sc IFN β-1a. A total of 136 (22.6%) patients experienced serious COVID-19 events, including 59 hospitalizations (4 patients admitted to intensive care) and 5 deaths (fatality rate, 0.8%). Regarding non-fatal outcomes, 47.8% of patients (289/603) with COVID-19 adverse events were recovered or recovering at time of analysis; similar findings were apparent for the serious and hospitalized cohorts.

Conclusion: Findings of this analysis from the Merck Global Patient Safety Database suggest that, compared with available statistics for the general population and those with MS, patients receiving sc IFN β-1a for treatment of relapsing MS have relatively low rates of serious disease and/or severe outcomes with COVID-19.

COI multiple

General Disclaimer: Please note that the opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry nor Barts Health NHS Trust and are not meant to be interpreted as personal clinical advice.

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  • But I thought there can be issues with people making antibodies towards the drug, and then consequently towards their own interferons. Which would be a pretty catastrophic state of affairs given COVID?

  • Have read this several times in different places. 1) I was on interferon, beta 1b which is Betaseron (once every two days), rather than Avonex (1a), (once a week). People prefer once a week. I tried it too on a bad recommendation, and had a 1st relapse in years (that was 20 years ago), so I went back to 1b (for 16 more years). Never had another relapse, tested for antibodies during this time after a move, by a new neurologist, who said I had antibodies and should change. I did change, doctors that is. I was also told the antibody info was unreliable as to what it meant (by someone else). So the overall 20+ year stint on interferon beta 1b worked fine for me. Ib is something like twice the strength of 1a and has a better efficacy record, If I am not mistaken, so check it out for youtself, and 2) I always thought to myself that if I were a manufacturer and wanted my medicine to look good, i would want to compare it with Interferon 1a, not 1b, which is what they usually did, back then.

  • But to conclude as to the subject of MD’s post, if I were still on Betaseron, I suppose I would have been “Covid Happy”. I would think that if antibodies to interferons did cause a ruckus with covid, I would have heard the noise, as I still take notes.

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