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About Betaseron ....

What it is

Betaseron* is a genetically engineered version of interferon beta, one of a family of small proteins known as interferons that are produced in people and other animals. When they were discovered more than thirty years ago, interferons were hailed as wonder drugs because of the potential to combat virus infections and cancer. A popular comic strip even featured an episode in which interferon was used to cure the hero infected by a mysterious virus. Despite the early excitement, relatively few human allments -- some forms of cancer and hepatitis -- can be treated with interferons today. But MS may soon be added to the list.

Human interferon beta is made primarily by cells known as fibroblasts, found in connective tissue; the other known forms of interferon are made by cells of the immune system. Although the interferons got their name from the fact that they interfere with vital infections, they are now known to have a wide range of regulatory effects on many aspects of the immune system.

How it's made

Betaseron, or Interferon beta-1b, is a genetically engineered recombinant protein, based on human interferon beta. Its developers (see page 8) started with the human gene containing the instructions for making interferon beta, modified the gene slightly, and put it into the common bacterium, Escherichia coli. Because the genetic code is universal, the bacteria read the instructions in the modified human gene and made interferon just as if it were their own protein. Tankfuls of these bacteria make enough of it for large-scale use, such as clinical trials.

What it does

Betaseron decreases the frequency and severity of acute attacks in people with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis, but at the moment, we don't know why.

Interferon beta combats viral infections, both in cells grown in the laboratory, and in laboratory animals. Acute attacks of multiple sclerosis often occur soon after a viral infection, such as upper respiratory tract infection, so the anti-virus effects of Betaseron might be important.

Interferon beta has a number of other regulatory effects on the immune system that might slow the attacks on myelin that cause the symptoms of MS. Is regulation of the immune system primarily responsible for the clinical effects of Betaseron?

Inspired by the results of the clinical trial, a growing number of scientists are investigating these questions. Their studies will not only answer these questions, but should provide clues to the best ways to use Betaseron against MS and suggest the development of even more effective treatments for MS.
COPYRIGHT 1993 National Multiple Sclerosis Society
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Interferon beta-1b for treatment of multiple sclerosis
Publication:Inside MS
Date:Jun 22, 1993
Words:417
Previous Article:Betaseron near formal approval.
Next Article:Eleven questions.
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