Interferons and interferon inducers: Development of clinical usefulness and therapeutic promise

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Interferons are broadly antiviral, naturally occurring substances, whose exact mechanism of action on virus infections is unknown. Major limitations on the quantities of interferon available for clinical trials have inhibited its development as a therapeutic agent. The variable nature of virus infections in certain patient populations has also produced difficulties in designing adequate studies. The majority of interferon used in man has been produced from leucocytes (human interferon-α; HuIFN-α); however, interferon produced from fibroblasts (human interferon-β; HuIFN-β) has recently been employed in some studies. Some understanding of the pharmacokinetics of these materials has been developed and intramuscular administration has been the most commonly used method for producing sustained circulating levels. The side effects of interferon, which are mainly fever and alterations in the haematopoietic system, appear to be dose-related and occur in most patients treated with higher dosages. The adverse effects noted have been transient and have not produced any long term detrimental changes. Interferon has been applied topically in attmepts to alter the course of acute herpes simplex keratitis and has been shown to have some efficacy; however, other antiviral agents are equally effective. Recurrent herpes simplex infections of the eye have not been affected by local interferon treatment. Interferon applied to the eye has also been shown to have some effect in epidemic keratoconjunctivitis. High dose, intranasal administration has been reported as preventing acquisition of rhinovirus administered in a challenge experiment. Systemic administration of interferon has been reported to limit the spread of herpes zoster infections in patients with underlying malignancy and may have some effect in varicella infections in children with malignancy. Herpes simplex reactivations have been inhibited in some surgical patients, and interferon appears to inhibit markers of chronic hepatitis B virus infection. Systemic administration has also been reported to have some antitumour effects in uncontrolled trials, but the role of interferon as a cancer chemotherapeutic agent has not yet been established. Substances which induce interferon production in man have been reported to produce significant circulating levels, but have not as yet been shown to be efficacious in antiviral or antitumour applications. Significant toxicity of these preparations and a state of hyporesponsiveness to induction may limit their usefulness. The development of techniques for producing highly purified interferon from bacteria promises to supply large amounts of material for future trials which may allow a more complete evaluation of interferon as a therapeutic modality.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)37-55
Number of pages19
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - 1982
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis
  • Toxicology


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