Medicine: What's Become of Interferon?

The once heralded wonder drug fulfills some of its promise

Few drugs have stirred more excitement and hope than interferon, which was widely heralded in the late 1970s as a potential cure for cancer and viral diseases. Painstakingly extracted in minute amounts from living cells, the substance showed great promise in laboratory tests. And by the early 1980s, genetic engineering had made possible the production of interferon in quantities large enough to begin extensive testing in humans. But soon afterward disillusionment set in. Although interferon slowed the growth of some tumors, it had no effect on others, and it often produced disturbing flulike symptoms. Interferon, it seems, was not a magic...

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