COVID-19 Arrives in Guyana and a Different Request for an Interferon-based Drug—Then Reports of 40+ Countries Follow

Mar 30, 2020 | Coronavirus, COVID-19, Guyana, Interferon Alfa-2B

COVID-19 Arrives in Guyana and a Different Request for an Interferon-based Drug—Then Reports of 40+ Countries Follow

Guyana, the only English-speaking country in South America and part of the “Anglophone-Caribbean sphere,” is not known by many in North America and Europe. Historically isolated, due to its proximity and historical circumstance—the sparsely populated country of only 790,000 is yet fascinating in its own right with a wildly beautiful tropical setting inclusive of some of the most isolated rainforest areas on the planet, indigenous tribes and a diversified population. With a fast-growing economy (agriculture and mining), the former Dutch and then British colony’s population concentrates in historic Georgetown. COVID-19 has made its way to this corner of South America with one death reported and eight cases as of this writing. Interestingly, the Ministry of Health may look to a surprising source for experimental drugs. Now chatter reports 40 other nations have followed. Their request: a drug known as Interferon Alfa-2B.

Guyana makes a Request Early

Weeks ago, the government of Guyana made a request for the drug from the Cuban government—the Ministry of Public Health looked to a drug called Interferon Alfa-2B, reportedly made in Cuba, as a consideration for the treatment of respiratory illness associated with severe cases of COVID-19. The request comes in part influenced by reports that the Chinese National Health Commission purportedly selected this drug among many as candidates to treat SARS-CoV-2.

45+ Countries Follow?

Newsweek reported that the product known by some as a “wonder drug” is purported to be requested worldwide, targeting the COVID-19 pandemic despite strict U.S. sanctions. Tom O’Connor, writing for Newsweek, reported that the drug was in fact developed by Cuba and China and that “Cuban Medical Brigades” were deploying around the world offering medical services and the Interferon Alfa-2B product.

According to at least some press outlets in India such as The Week, the story of the Chinese National Health Commission selecting Interferon Alfa-2B was repeated. Apparently, there is a joint venture called ChangHeber that actually produces the drug in China. The remedy purportedly is used as a treatment of HIV, human papilloma virus, and Hepatitis B and C. There are reports than over 40 nations from Ireland to Italy are requesting this drug. TrialSite News cannot verify in any substantial way other than a few articles.

Why Interferons?

These “signaling” proteins made and released by host cells in response to several viruses, are actually part of the body’s defense system and essentially are named appropriately in that they can “interfere” with viruses—stopping them from multiplying.

The infected cells in SARS-CoV-2 may make the body generate interferon-alpha and interferon-beta, warning the human immune system to act. In this process, white blood cells are produced by immune cells, releasing interferon-gamma to combat the virus or foreign microbes. Human-made versions, Interferon-based drugs are used in a number of areas from cancer therapy to HIV and Hepatitis C. Various studies delve into the question of applying interferon-based treatment to SARS-CoV-2, such as researchers from the Institute of Medical Virology, Frankfurt University Medical School. The Frankfurt-based researchers noted that “interferon β could be useful alone or in combination with other antiviral drugs for the treatment of SARS.”

What are the Facts?

TrialSite News sought to assess the accuracy of the claim that this interferon-based purported “wonder drug” was being used in Italy to treat severe COVID-19 cases or that China was utilizing the drug to combat severe cases of the novel coronavirus—was this fact or not? Literature reviews found a number of Italian studies assessing the drug for various conditions many years ago but nothing recent nor relevant to SARS-CoV-2. Moreover, little is written up about the joint venture called ChangHeber. If this drug was so effective, why wasn’t there more clear evidence?

Chatter on the internet and brief “factoids” don’t necessarily translate to fact. Hence, unless study data is accumulated, aggregated, and analyzed—and importantly reviewed by peers—and thereafter published in a diversified array of outlets and channels then such claims can’t be verified. TrialSite News is committed to access and transparency in clinical research and hence will at least review such claims. If the Interferon Alfa-2B is in fact being administered to COVID-19 patients, the hope would be that the treatment and any evidence produced would be documented with scientific rigor, reviewed, and when conclusive, published in established journals or media outlets.

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