Many years ago alpha-interferon was trumpeted as wonder drug for cancer. I remember the government stumping up £8 million to buy the entire stock of Wellcome's interferon to treat some desperate child dying of cancer. We now know that interferon has very little, if any, place in cancer therapeutics, but in the test tube interferon certainly acts as a tumor suppressor.
Workers in Toronto have demonstrated that in some cases of CLL interferon may be associated with aggressive disease.
Interferons normally suppress tumor growth by phosphorylating and activating STAT1, but also briefly activate STAT3 (STAT stands for signal transducer and activator of transcription). In CLL with poor prognostic features like del 17p and del 11q, the duration of STAT3 activation is prolonged. This activation is associated with an increase in cell size and number. There was also an association with high levels of reactive oxygen species.
Interferons are produced in response to viral illnesses and this phenomenon could account for deterioration in some cases of CLL in association with a viral illness. TYK2 inhibitors or anti-oxidents given with alpha interferon might have a place in the therapy of aggressive CLL.