A long-approved MS therapy is among the newest options being evaluated for treatment of COVID-19.

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the branch of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) led by Anthony S. Fauci, MD, announced in early August that it is studying the efficacy and safety of treating COVID-19 with the antiviral agent remdesivir and Rebif® (interferon beta-1a). The combination regimen is being evaluated in a study called the Adaptive COVID-19 Treatment Trial 3 (ACTT 3), which seeks to enroll more than 1,000 hospitalized adults with COVID-19 at as many as 100 sites in the United States and abroad. [NIH]

Rebif was approved for the treatment of relapsing forms of MS in March 2002. An NIH press release noted, “Interferon beta-1a has the same amino acid sequence as a naturally occurring protein called interferon beta, which is part of a class of proteins called type 1 interferons. Infected cells normally produce type 1 interferons to help the immune system fight pathogens, especially viruses. Interferon beta has both antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties.

Laboratory studies suggest that the normal interferon response is suppressed in some people after infection with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. In the laboratory, type 1 interferon can inhibit SARS-CoV-2 and two closely related viruses, SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV. In addition, two small randomized controlled trials suggest that treatment with interferon beta may benefit patients with COVID-19.” The NIH added that preliminary evidence from earlier trials showed that COVID-19 patients who received remdesivir recovered sooner than those receiving placebo.

The NIH said that the study will focus on hospitalized adults with laboratory-confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection with evidence of lung involvement (including a need for supplemental oxygen), abnormal chest X-rays, or illness requiring mechanical ventilation. Patients will be randomized in a 1:1 ratio to receive either subcutaneous interferon beta-1a plus remdesivir or remdesivir alone. The study will be a double-blind trial, with neither patients nor clinicians knowing who is receiving the combination therapy and who is receiving remdesivir plus a placebo.

“Investigators will evaluate whether time to recovery is shorter in the combination therapy group relative to the remdesivir-only group,” the NIH said, adding that the trial will also evaluate outcomes including mortality.