‘Virafin’s raises hope for quicker Covid cure in moderate patients in Single-dose

Nagpur: A new drug, Pegylated Interferon alpha-2b, launched as ‘Virafin’, has reached Nagpur’s pharmaceutical market this week, with doctors eager to test its use and efficacy. This single-dose injectable had got emergency use clearance from the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) in April following clinical trials.

Zydus Cadila’s Virafin is the second crucial drug for the Covid-19 treatment to reach the city in the last one week, after monoclonal antibody-based ‘Cocktail therapy’ or combination therapy of Casirivimab and Imdevimab. While cocktail therapy is to be administered at the earliest, experts feel Virafin may have to be administered in moderate patients.

Dr. Kamal Bhutada, director of ICU at Care Hospital, and also chairman of the Indian Society of Critical Care Medicine, Nagpur chapter, said interferons are natural molecules produced in the body which are the first line of defense. “Pegylated form of interferons are sort of artificially produced molecules, which are administered subcutaneously in persons whose capacity to produce natural molecules diminishes due to age and other factors,” said Dr. Bhutada. “This drug must be injected early in the disease but not in a very mild form, and also not in severe disease,” he said.

Dr. Bhutada also said phase III trials of the drug showed that it lessens complications, reduces oxygen dependency, and also returns RTPCR report negative early.

Senior physician and intensivist Dr. Rajesh Atal said he had used interferons for treating Hepatitis B and C. “The studies on the interferon’s extrapolated to use in Covid treatment so far have shown they reduce viral loads in moderate patients. Therefore, we can expect this drug to check the progression of a patient from moderate to severe, and reduce oxygen dependency,” said Dr. Atal. “The studies available showed this drug acts by reducing the viral replication,” he said. Dr. Atal is looking forward to testing this drug’s efficacy in the coming days.
Consultant chest physician and intensivist Dr. Shashank Kharwade said interferon are signaling proteins that help the body’s immune system fight against viral infections. “As per the research study and trials, it is beneficial in moderate Covid viral pneumonia patients who have oxygen saturation between 90-94%. It means if the drug is administered early in moderate Covid pneumonia patients, then it may help recover faster and avoid later complications,” said Dr Kharwade.

Dr Vimmi Goel, senior consultant physician, Kingsway Hospital, said interferons help the body’s immune system defend against viral infections but it is also known to have side effects. “Till now, we have not used this drug for Covid patients in the city but its use in moderate patients still remains uncertain, as there is insufficient data regarding this drug on a large number of patients,” she said.