The Philadelphia-negative chronic myeloproliferative neoplasms encompass essential thrombocythemia (ET), polycythemia vera (PV) and primary myelofibrosis (PMF). A major break-through in the understanding of the pathogenesis of these neoplasms occurred in 2005 by the discovery of the JAK2 V617F mutation in the large majority of patients with PV and in half of those with ET and PMF. A number of studies have shown that the “tumor burden” may be monitored at the molecular level in JAK2-positive patients using highly sensitive real-time quantitative PCR. During the last 25 years several studies have shown that interferon-alpha (IFN-alpha) induces complete hematological remissions in a large proportion of the patients. However, its use in clinical practice has unfortunately been limited due to side effects with high drop-out rates in most studies. Recently, IFN-alpha2 has been shown to induce deep molecular remissions and also normalization of the bone marrow in PV, which may be sustained even after discontinuation of IFN-alpha2 therapy. Accordingly, in the coming years we are most likely facing a new era of increasing interest for using IFN-alpha2 in the treatment of patients with PV, ET and the hyperproliferative phase of PMF. This paper reviews the history of IFN – in principle IFN-alpha2 - and its present status in the treatment of PV and related diseases. The role of IFN-alpha2 as immune therapy in the future treatment of CMPNs is highlighted and the rationale for the concept of minimal residual disease and potentially cure after long-term immune therapy with IFN-alpha2 is discussed and foreseen as an achievable goal in the future.
Keywords: Essential thrombocythemia, polycythemia vera, primary myelofibrosis, post-polycythemia vera myelofibrosis, post-essential thrombocythemia myelofibrosis, Philadelphia-negative chronic myeloproliferative disorders, IFN-alpha2a, IFNalpha2b, Peg-IFN-alpha2a, Peg- IFN-alpha2b