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Interferon Treatment May Improve COVID-19 Outcomes in People with Certain Genetic Factors

, by Justine E. Yu, Ph.D.

Image of sars-cov-2 virus

Interferon treatment may improve COVID-19 outcomes in people of European and African ancestries who carry a particular set of genetic variants in the OAS1 gene, according to a new study published in Nature Genetics on July 14, 2022. 

Previous research has found that genetic changes in OAS1, a gene that facilitates the detection and breakdown of viruses including SARS-CoV-2, are associated with increased risk of COVID-19 infection. A team of scientists in the Laboratory of Translational Genomics led by Ludmila Prokunina-Olsson, Ph.D., Chief and senior investigator, Oscar Florez-Vargas, Ph.D., M.Sc., research fellow, and Rouf Banday, Ph.D., former research fellow, explored the effect of OAS1 variants using data from individuals with mild, moderate, or severe COVID-19. They found that individuals who carried a specific combination of genetic variants were more likely to be hospitalized and had a lowered ability to clear the virus. 

The investigators also found that interferon treatment of infected cell cultures decreased viral load. To investigate whether these in vitro studies could be relevant in the clinic, the researchers analyzed data from a clinical trial in which patients with non-hospitalized COVID-19 were treated with the interferon pegIFN-λ1. They found that treatment improved viral clearance in all patients; however, those with the OAS1 risk variants benefitted the most. 

The results suggest that interferon treatment may improve COVID-19 outcomes, particularly in patients with OAS1 risk variants who have reduced ability to clear the infection. “Future studies will be necessary to validate the use of interferon treatment as an early intervention for COVID-19 in diverse populations through a more extensive clinical trial,” said Dr. Prokunina-Olsson.


Banday AR, et al. Genetic regulation of OAS1 nonsense-mediated decay underlies association with COVID-19 hospitalization in patients of European and African ancestriesNature Genetics. 2022.