The use of recombinant interferon alpha-2b in the prevention and treatment of coronavirus infection

10 марта 2020

The epidemic of COVID-19 coronavirus infection keeps spreading around the world. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak an international emergency with a very high threat level. More than 110,000 people have been infected with the novel coronavirus worldwide.

Coronavirus COVID-19: on high alert

Today, not only China, but more than 108 countries are fighting the new coronavirus infection. The largest outbreak outside China is in South Korea, Italy and Iran, but France, Germany, Japan and Spain are also being hit hard. The virologists stated that the rate of coronavirus spread in Europe is even higher, than in China. Health officials are concerned that the outbreaks will continue to grow. New coronavirus cases have been confirmed in countries, where the virus was first reported just recently — in Sweden, Switzerland, Austria, the Netherlands and Lithuania.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned that the situation with COVID-19 coronavirus infection could be at a pandemic level. A concerted response by all governments is required to contain and control the COVID-19 spreading around the world.

The European Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarcic said that the situation with the coronavirus in Europe will worsen, and therefore the European Commission is preparing a coordinated response. Major international conferences, trade shows, cultural events and sporting competitions have already been cancelled.

What is coronavirus?

Coronaviruses were first discovered in 1965. The name coronavirus is derived from the Latin corona (meaning «crown» or «halo»), which refers to the characteristic appearance of the virus particles (virions): they have a «fringe», resembling a solar corona during an eclipse.

Two types of coronaviruses are known to cause severe respiratory viral diseases in humans:

  • SARS-CoV (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus) was the cause of the atypical pneumonia epidemic in 2002−2003, which spread to 33 countries worldwide.
  • MERS-CoV (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus) was first detected in the Middle East in 2012.

Novel coronavirus

Coronavirus COVID-19 (2019-nCoV) is a new strain of coronavirus that has never been detected in humans. Like SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV, it belongs to the same pathogenic group.

The first cases of this new respiratory disease were reported in December 2019 in Wuhan City, Hubei Province (China).

The genetic sequence of COVID-19 is up to 79% similar to that of SARS-CoV. The pathogenesis of COVID-19 has not been sufficiently studied. Presumably, the main source is bats. It is currently unknown whether the new virus is transmitted directly from bats or through an intermediate host.

How is it spread?

Coronavirus experts think that the COVID-19 originated in animal species, and then spread to humans. Person to person spread of COVID-19 is occurring, but it is not yet understood how easily this happens. Human coronavirus strains are spread from person to person (through coughing or sneezing) or contaminated hands, and generally occurs between people who are close contacts with one another.

Risk groups

One of the characteristics of COVID-19 is that in the early days of an infection, the novel coronavirus rapidly invades human lung cells.

Elderly people, pregnant women, young children, people with chronic diseases and with weak immune systems are particularly susceptible to developing severe complications, such as pneumonia.


Due to the lack of information about the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), no specific treatment yet exists. Patients with COVID-19 mainly receive supportive care to help relieve symptoms. For severe cases treatment includes care to support vital organ functions, in particular to restore airway function.

Given that the new strain is genetically similar to SARS, it is important to combine early research on this outbreak with past lessons from SARS and MERS to tackle COVID-19.

One of the treatment complexities is that the coronavirus multiplies intensively in the epithelial cells of the respiratory tract in the absence of an adequate immune response. When the innate immune system is functioning properly, interferons are secreted by cells in response to the virus. Interferons inhibit the virus replication by stimulating the infected cells and those nearby to produce proteins that prevent the virus from replicating within them, but this natural process can be suppressed by the coronavirus infection. On this basis, infectious disease specialists believe that the use of recombinant interferon medications can contribute to the successful control of the coronavirus infection spreading.

Coronaviruses are known to be sensitive to medications that are used to treat other viral infections, including viral hepatitis, such as recombinant interferons.

In Russia current guidelines for the use of antiviral medications are based on available data on their efficacy and safety in the treatment of acute respiratory viral infections (ARVI), including coronaviruses.

For prevention purposes and to reduce the risk of ARVI-related complications, the use of topical interferon alpha-2b medications (nasal drops, spray, ointment, gel, suppositories) is advisable for mild and moderate forms of respiratory viral disease.


Interferons are a group of glycoprotein cytokines with strong antiviral activities and an integral part of the non-specific immunity:

  1. Interferons block replication of all DNA and RNA viruses, including infectious agents that cause acute respiratory viral infections (ARVI) and influenza.
  2. Interferons activate antiviral immunological reactions in the organism. As a result, all possible antiviral mechanisms are united against the virus. Interferons are important first line of defence against viruses and other pathogens.


The only antiviral medication allowed for use in all age groups, including pregnant women and children from the first days of life is Grippferon® (nasal drops and spray).

Grippferon® — original interferon-based medication (active ingredient: human recombinant interferon alpha-2b) for the treatment and prevention of influenza and acute respiratory viral infections (ARVI). It is developed and produced by biotechnology company FIRN M.

Mechanism of Action

Most viruses get into the respiratory tract through the nasal cavity. The interferon-based medication Grippferon® prevents the replication of viruses in the mucous membranes of the nose — the main port of entry for viruses.

Grippferon® has been successfully used in Russia for many years. The efficacy and safety of Grippferon® in the treatment and prevention of acute respiratory viral infections and influenza is confirmed by numerous clinical studies.

Prospects for the use of Grippferon® against coronavirus infection

During the SARS epidemic in 2003, specialists from Research Institute of Influenza (WHO National Influenza Centre of Russia) assessed the efficacy of the medicine Grippferon® on the cell culture-based coronavirus infection model. The study results revealed that Grippferon® has a direct inhibitory effect on the human coronavirus. It was concluded that Grippferon® can be considered as one of the perspective medications for the prevention and treatment of human coronavirus infection.

In 2014 Russian Research Centre of Virology and Biotechnology VECTOR (a part of the Russian Federal Service for Surveillance on Consumer Rights Protection and Human Wellbeing) conducted research to assess the antiviral activity of the medicine Grippferon® against SARS and MERS coronaviruses. Experimental study results have confirmed that Grippferon® has an inhibitory effect on the replication of SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV viruses and can be used for the prevention and treatment of respiratory viral diseases caused by these infectious agents.

The evidence base regarding the safety and efficacy of Grippferon® suggests that it can be considered as one of the perspective medications for the prevention and treatment of coronavirus infection, especially for high-risk groups, like pregnant women and children from the first days of life.


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  3. /2020/01/3518-grippferon-in-vitro-human-coronavirus-inhibitory-effect/ (in Russian)
  4. /2020/01/3536-grippferon-assessment-of-antiviral-activity-against-sars-and-mers-coronaviruses/ (in Russian)