Interferon does not help hospitalized COVID-19 patients, NIH study finds

A recent National Institutes of Health trial highlights the failure of a COVID-19 treatment known as interferon beta-1a, a medicine with both antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties, often used in its injected form to treat diseases like multiple sclerosis.

A separate small study published in July made the drug a potentially hopeful candidate to treat COVID-19 but the NIH study published on Monday found that interferon did not benefit outcomes of hospitalized adults with COVID-19.

NIH scientists said Interferon beta-1a has a similar cellular structure as a naturally occurring protein called interferon beta, which is produced by infected cells to help the body’s immune system. 

But researchers found that the use of interferon beta-1a was "not associated with a clinical benefit."

RELATED: Data shows remdesivir reduces risk of COVID-19 hospitalization, Gilead Sciences says

"Laboratory studies have shown that the normal type 1 interferon response is suppressed after infection with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19," researchers said. 

The antiviral drug remdesivir was used as an active control in the study. Researchers noted that interferon beta-1a played no role in speeding up the recovery process for hospitalized COVID-19 patients compared with remdesivir. 

"The primary outcome, time to recovery, was the same — a median of 5 days — for participants receiving interferon beta-1a plus remdesivir as for those receiving remdesivir alone," researchers wrote.