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Old drug (Interferon) reveals new tricks

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  • Old drug (Interferon) reveals new tricks


    Public release date: 29-Feb-2012
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    Contact: Jason Socrates Bardi
    University of California - San Francisco

    Old drug reveals new tricks
    Study of patients infected with both HIV and hepatitis shows how the drug interferon works to suppress virus

    A drug once taken by people with HIV/AIDS but long ago shelved after newer, modern antiretroviral therapies became available has now shed light on how the human body uses its natural immunity to fight the virus?work that could help uncover new targets for drugs.

    In an article published online this month by the journal PNAS, a group of U.S. and Swiss researchers led by scientists at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) presented the first clinical assessment of how this drug fights infections in people. The drug, called interferon, is a biotechnology product based on a protein the body naturally produces to fight infections.

    While purified interferon was given to people with HIV/AIDS in the early days of the epidemic because it alleviated many of the symptoms of the disease, its mode of action was always something of a black box.

    "Nobody knew how it worked," said Satish K. Pillai, PhD, lead investigator and assistant professor of Medicine at UCSF and the San Francisco VA Medical Center.

    Experiments in the laboratory in recent years have shown how interferon may work to suppress HIV in vitro, but there was no clinical evidence until now showing how the drug attacks HIV in treated patients. The problem is that so few people actually take interferon for HIV any more. However, interferon is still used in combination with other drugs to treat hepatitis C, which gave the team the possibility to assess its effect on HIV...