Japan firm begins clinical trials of favipiravir against COVID-19

Tokyo, Apr 1 (efe-epa).- Japanese pharmaceutical company Fujifilm Toyama Chemical has begun clinical trials of experimental antiviral drug favipiravir for treating ailments related to COVID-19, official media said Wednesday.

The clinal trial will continue until the end of June, during which the company will test the drug on around 100 patients infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus, public broadcaster NHK reported.

Favipiravir, known in Japan under the brand name Avigan, prevents the virus from duplicating its genetic material through a mechanism to selectively inhibit the RNA polymerase, an enzyme involved in the replication of RNA viruses, which cause some of the most rapidly spreading viral diseases.

“Due to this mechanism, it is expected that Avigan may potentially have an antiviral effect on the new coronavirus as it is classified into the same type of single-stranded RNA virus as influenza,” the company said in a statement on Tuesday.

In 2014, the government had approved the production and sale of Avigan for treating influenza.

However, owing to possible side-effects, the experimental drug was to be used only in case of an outbreak of novel or re-emerging influenza virus infections in which other antiviral drugs proved to be ineffective or insufficiently effective.

Avigan is therefore only manufactured and distributed on the express authorization of the government, and it has never been publicly distributed or put on sale anywhere in Japan or overseas.

Fujifilm said the Japanese government has a stockpile of the drug, which – according to media reports – runs up to around two million doses, a quantity that might prove insufficient if widely used to treat the novel coronavirus.

Doctors in Japan had already been researching Avigan’s properties to treat COVID-19, but a clinical trial by the company is required to obtain approval for large-scale use.

Italy, one of the countries worst-affected by the pandemic, has also approved the drug for experimental use on patients in Lombardy and Veneto regions.

Avigan grabbed headlines after a study by the Chinese University of Wuhan – the city where the outbreak originated – suggested that favipiravir could be effective in treating COVID-19.

Other existing compounds which are being tested as possible medications against the disease include anti-malarial drug chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine and lopinavir/ritonavir, used for treating HIV-AIDS. EFE-EPA


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