We developed interferon-α–kinoid (IFN-K), a drug composed of inactivated IFNα coupled to a carrier protein, keyhole limpet hemocyanin. In human IFNα–transgenic mice, IFN-K induces polyclonal antibodies that neutralize all 13 subtypes of human IFNα. We also previously demonstrated that IFN-K slows disease progression in a mouse model of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). This study was undertaken to examine the safety, immunogenicity, and biologic effects of active immunization with IFN-K in patients with SLE.
We performed a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, phase I/II dose-escalation study comparing 3 or 4 doses of 30 μg, 60 μg, 120 μg, or 240 μg of IFN-K or placebo in 28 women with mild to moderate SLE.
IFN-K was well tolerated. Two SLE flares were reported as serious adverse events, one in the placebo group and the other in a patient who concomitantly stopped corticosteroids 2 days after the first IFN-K dose, due to mild fever not related to infection. Transcriptome analysis was used to separate patients at baseline into IFN signature–positive and –negative groups, based on the spontaneous expression of IFN-induced genes. IFN-K induced anti-IFNα antibodies in all immunized patients. Notably, significantly higher anti-IFNα titers were found in signature-positive patients than in signature-negative patients. In IFN signature–positive patients, IFN-K significantly reduced the expression of IFN-induced genes. The decrease in IFN score correlated with the anti-IFNα antibody titer. Serum complement C3 levels were significantly increased in patients with high anti-IFNα antibody titers.
These results show that IFN-K is well tolerated, immunogenic, and significantly improves disease biomarkers in SLE patients, indicating that further studies of its clinical efficacy are warranted.