The MPN Research Foundation has invested more in Interferon research in the past few years through our MPN Interferon Initiative, a global collaboration among researchers and patient advocacy organizations. Interferon is a drug that has been on the market for decades. It was developed to treat viral infections like hepatitis B, but the medical community has also found uses for it in the treatment of cancer, including myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs).
The discussion of Interferon and its use in the MPN patient population can be heated at times. While it can significantly reduce symptom burden and has in some cases even reduced the occurrence of mutated stem cells, the response doesn’t last forever, and some patients can’t tolerate Interferon at all. The Foundation invested in the MPN Interferon Initiative because we were frustrated by what we do not understand about how Interferon works in the treatment of MPNs, why some patients can’t tolerate the treatment, and why it eventually stops working.
In addition to the off-label use of existing interferons, there is a formulation of interferon being developed specifically for MPN – Ropeginterferon – which is currently in Phase 3 of its clinical trials in the United States and has recently been approved in Europe. The makers of Ropeginterferon – Pharmaessentia – provided some funding for the Interferon Initiative, along with patients from the community who have contributed to the MPN Research Foundation. But to really get to the bottom of how and why Interferons work and how to continue to improve them for MPN patients, we feel this initiative is important.
There are 4 laboratories working on this now, funded jointly by MPNRF, Cancer Research & Treatment Fund, and MPN Alliance Australian:
- Ann Mullally (Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston Massachusetts), working with Steven Lane (Brisbane, Australia)
- Joseph Scandura (Weil Cornell, New York, New York)
- Jean-Luc Villeval & Isabel Plo (INSERM, Paris, France)
- Leonidas Platanias (Northwestern, Chicago Illinois)
When the Foundation imagined this initiative, it was important to make this as collaborative as possible. In addition to an annual meeting with the Scientific Advisory Board for the Interferon Initiative, the researchers also participate in quarterly calls and provide progress reports of their work. This helps us help them if they run into a roadblock, and it lets us see the progress of the work that we and the patient community are funding. We and our partners have provided funding to researchers from around the world that specialize in Interferon, MPNs, and solid tumors to bring both broad and deep understanding of this issue. Collaboration among this group of scientists focused specifically on Interferon is unprecedented and speaks to their drive to answer these questions:
- How and why does targeting the IFN pathway reduces the burden of mutated stem cells in MPN patients?
- Why is targeting this pathway effective for some MPN patients but not others?
- Why are the positive effects of targeting this pathway not permanent?
The answers and their collaboration could prove transformational. We have already convened two meetings among the investigators, and the MPN Research Foundation looks forward to sharing the results of this initiative in the coming years.