Interferon in Cuba, a prophecy come true

Jun 22, 2020 by

The Heberferon project was a colossal, rewarding effort that has saved lives.Photo: Ariel Cecilio Lemus AlvarezWhen Comandante en Jefe Fidel Castro inaugurated the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB) on July 1, 1986, he said he expected more from combinations of alpha and gamma interferons than from the individual use of the products, first produced in Cuba 39 years ago, on May 28, 1981.

That prediction became a reality on August 4, 2016, when Heberferon, a new formulation of IFNS alpha and gamma interferons for the treatment of basal cell carcinoma, the most common skin cancer, was approved in our country.

Bearing in mind that both molecules are distinguished by their antiviral and immunomodulatory properties, CIGB researchers and Ministry of Public Health experts decided to include the drug in protocols for covid-19 treatment, as Dr. Eulogio Pimentel Vázquez, general director of the institution affiliated with the BioCubaFarma Enterprise Group, told Granma.

According to Dr. Iraldo Bello, leader of the project at the CIGB, the biological activity of both interferons working together is superior to that of either one individually, thus enhancing therapeutic effects, something that had been previously demonstrated in studies conducted at the institution, he said.

This medication has been administered to more than 3,000 Cuban patients with basal cell carcinoma, a cancer that is very common in elderly patients, many with comorbidities such as high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease.

The experience has shown that its use has been safe and effective. Today, Heberferon is widely prescribed across the country, including at the primary care level.

For the particular case of SARS-COV-2, the decision to use Heberferon was also supported by recognized international publications which, since 2000, have reported evidence that the combination of IFN alpha and gamma could be very effective against coronaviruses.

As Dr. Pimentel reported, the first results of the Heberferon study have shown that, when administered subcutaneously twice a week, for 14 days in COVID-19 patients, the virus was eliminated within four days.

Such a promising report was obtained in 80% of the patients treated in the framework of the Esperanza clinical study. The clinical evolution of these patients was very positive, with none reaching serious or critical condition.

According to Dr. Bello, in addition to the impact observed in the elimination of the virus, the product also helps reduce transmission, by eradicating the virus quickly.

The Ministry of Public Health expert commission recommended beginning its use with patients exhibiting a prolonged, persistient presence of the virus, achieving 100% elimination of the virus with two to four administrations of Heberferon.

This scientific contribution is the result of the work of a large number of doctors and other health personnel at the Luis Diaz Soto Military Hospital, along with the researchers at the CIGB, a colossal, rewarding effort, Dr. Pimentel emphasized, saving lives and promoting the wellbeing of patients.

 

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