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Author: Anoma Ranaweera, Medical Writer, Auckland, New Zealand. Chief Editor: Dr Amanda Oakley, Dermatologist, Hamilton, New Zealand, December 2015.
The interferons are a family of biological proteins (cytokines) produced by a variety of cells. They have immunomodulatory and antiproliferative effects on tumour cells and can be broadly divided into type I (interferon-alpha and beta) and type II (interferon-gamma).
Three types of interferon-alpha are commercially available: interferon alfa-2a (Roferon®-A, Hoffmann-La Roche, New Jersey [NJ], USA), interferon alfa-2b (Intron A®; Schering-Plough Corporation, Madison NJ, USA), and peginterferon alfa-2b (Sylatron®; Schering-Plough Corporation, Madison NJ, USA); each differs minimally in their amino-acid sequence.
Both interferon alfa-2a and interferon alfa-2b are available in New Zealand for melanoma treatment; peginterferon alfa-2b was approved by the FDA in USA for the adjuvant treatment of melanoma in 2011, but is not available in New Zealand.
In clinical trials, the most common side effects (greater than or equal to 20%) in patients receiving interferons were:
Peg-interferon alfa-2b can cause serious side effects including worsening of pre-existing conditions such as:
Peginterferon alfa-2b should be discontinued permanently in patients with persistently severe or worsening signs or symptoms of depression, psychosis, or encephalopathy.
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