Posted on: March 23, 2020 at 5:58 pm

The pandemic rages on with about 350,000 confirmed cases and 15,000 deaths, as of March 23, according to Johns Hopkins University of Medicine. [1] While measures like enforced hygiene and isolation are in place, everyone wonders when the pandemic will end and when a cure will come about.

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According to recent news reports, a drug used in Japan to treat the flu may be effective at treating the coronavirus. The antiviral drug is called Avigan or Favipiravir and is showing promise in clinical trials involving 340 participants in Shenzhen and Wuhan, according to Zhang Xinmin from China’s science and technology ministry.

It has a high degree of safety and is clearly effective in treatment,” said Zhang.

About the Drug

Favipiravir was developed by Fujifilm Toyama Chemical in 2014 and manufactured by Zhejiang Hisun Pharmaceutical to treat influenza, but last month, it became an experimental treatment for sufferers of COVID-19.

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People in Shenzhen who tested positive for the coronavirus took the drug and four days later, on average, their virus tests returned negative. Half of the subjects tested negative within four days while the other half took longer than 4 days to test negative. In general, it took patients without the drug 11 days to test negative. In this same trial, lung conditions improved for about 91% of the patients taking the drug, as shown through X-rays, while the same symptoms only improved for 62% of those who did not take it.

Participants in the Wuhan study also experienced a shorter fever duration, about 4.2 to 2.5 days.

The drug showed no obvious side effects. [2]

The developer, Fujifilm Toyama Chemical, has declined comment on these claims, but shares of Fujifilm spiked more than 15% last Wednesday in response to this news, despite the fact that the company doesn’t expect much earnings from the drug since its Chinese license for the key ingredient in the drug expired last year.  The company is not involved with the Chinese clinical trials. [3]

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Read: Terrifying footage from a hospital in Italy shows a health system overwhelmed by COVID-19 crisis

How the Drug Works

Favipiravir is intended to treat RNA viruses like SARS-Cov-2. It works by affecting how well the viruses can replicate. It does so by inhibiting the enzyme used by viruses called RNA polymerase. [4]

However, for cases with severe symptoms, the drug appears less effective. “We’ve given Avigan to 70 to 80 people, but it doesn’t seem to work that well when the virus has already multiplied,” a source from the Japanese Health Ministry said to the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper.

The source added that these limitations have also been demonstrated in studies on coronavirus patients being treated with a combination of HIV antiretrovirals lopinavir and ritonavir.

Therefore, doctors in Japan are beginning their own trials of the drug on patients with mild to moderate symptoms. The drug would need government approval for full-scale use against the virus because it was originally developed for the flu.

The results from these trials haven’t been published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal yet; only preliminary findings are available. However, the drug could be approved in May, according to a health official speaking to Mainichi. “But if the results of clinical research are delayed, approval could also be delayed.[5]

There are some reservations about Favipiravir in South Korea and Japan, despite its clinical trials. Previous studies have shown that the drug has some potentially serious side effects including fetal deformity and death. The drug can also be transferred through semen. South Korea’s ministry of health and food safety decided against bringing in the drug since experts estimated that there was not enough evidence of its effectiveness for treating the coronavirus. [3]

Read: Researchers: People With Blood Type A May Be More Vulnerable To Coronavirus

Potential Treatment for COVID-19

There is no medicine to treat the coronavirus yet, but antiviral drugs intended for other illnesses are being tried to treat the current pandemic. For example, Remdesivir was manufactured to treat Ebola but may have some promise treating MERS, another coronavirus, according to tests on monkeys. Remdesivir is currently being tried in the U.S. and China.

In other good news, clinical trials have become experimenting coronavirus vaccines on people. A trial run in Seattle is planning to vaccinate 45 volunteers and study them for six weeks to see how well the vaccine triggers the immune system to fight the virus. If this study goes well, along with the two clinical trial phases, a coronavirus vaccine could be available to the public in about 12–18 months, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. [6]

Keep Reading: Italian coronavirus patient, 79, recovers after taking Ebola drug

  1. Coronavirus COVID-19 Global Cases by Johns Hopkins University of Medicine https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html Accessed by March 23, 2020
  2. Pharmaceutical Technology. Chinese official says Fujifilm’s Favipiravir could treat Covid-19https://www.pharmaceutical-technology.com/news/fujifilm-favipiravir-covid-19/ March 18, 2020
  3. Lisette Voytko. Japanese Flu Drug ‘Effective’ Against Coronavirus In Clinical Trials, Chinese Officials Say. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/lisettevoytko/2020/03/18/japanese-flu-drug-effective-against-coronavirus-in-clinical-trials-chinese-officials-say/#7ca5b6a46bad March 18, 2020 
  4. Furuta Y, Komeno T, Nakamura T. Favipiravir (T-705), a broad spectrum inhibitor of viral RNA polymerase. Proc Jpn Acad Ser B Phys Biol Sci. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28769016 2017.
  5. Justin McCurry. Japanese flu drug ‘clearly effective’ in treating coronavirus, says China. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/18/japanese-flu-drug-clearly-effective-in-treating-coronavirus-says-china March 18, 2020
  6. Jeanna Bryner. Flu drug used in Japan shows promise in treating COVID-19. Live Science.https://www.livescience.com/flu-drug-could-treat-coronavirus.html March 18, 2020
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Sarah Schafer
Founder of The Creative Palate
Sarah is a baker, cook, author, and blogger living in Toronto. She believes that food is the best method of healing and a classic way of bringing people together. In her spare time, Sarah does yoga, reads cookbooks, writes stories, and finds ways to make any type of food in her blender. Her blog The Creative Palate shares the nutrition and imagination of her recipes for others embarking on their journey to wellbeing.

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