While many effective vaccines have been developed to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, there remains a critical need for novel ways of treating patients hospitalized with moderate, severe or critical COVID-19. A recent commentary published by CITF-funded researcher Dr. Donald Vinh from the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre explores the use of type 1 interferon proteins to allow physicians to better control the disease.

In this commentary, Dr. Vinh explores the use of type 1 interferon (IFN) proteins in a therapeutic setting via two modes: 1) the administration of exogenous IFN-β and 2) the removal of auto-antibodies against type 1 IFN.

Key points:

  • Numerous studies have suggested that our innate immune system, specifically type 1 interferons (1 IFN), play a critical role in controlling the replication of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and in minimizing its damage.
  • Auto-antibodies against type 1 IFN, which are antibodies that attack type 1 IFN, have been associated with nearly 10% of critical COVID-19 disease cases. Hence, therapeutic interventions that can deplete these auto-antibodies may be beneficial for treating patients hospitalized with severe COVID-19.
  • Additionally, 3% of those affected by severe COVID-19 may have defects associated with the type 1 IFN signalling pathway. These populations may require specific therapeutics such as exogenous IFN treatment for protection.
  • Along with not producing enough type 1 IFNs, the flip side of having excessive levels may also be detrimental. Excessive type 1 IFN in response to SARS-CoV-2 is associated with greater inflammation, which can result in negative disease outcomes. As such, the use of interventions such as type 1 interferons may be useful for controlling uncontrolled inflammation.

Overall, the authors suggest that the use of targeted interventions such as exogenous IFN therapy or removal of auto-antibodies against IFN may allow physicians to better leverage the use of our innate immune system to control the COVID-19 disease.

Vinh DC, Abel L, Bastard P, Cheng MP, Condino-Neto A, Gregersen PK, Haerynck F, Cicalese MP, Hagin D, Soler-Palacín P, Planas AM. Harnessing Type I IFN Immunity Against SARS-CoV-2 with Early Administration of IFN-β. Journal of Clinical Immunology. 2021 Jun 8:1-8.