PM Abe touts Avigan as COVID-19 treatment despite experts urging caution


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Source:  KYODO NEWS – Apr 23, 2020 – 12:55 | AllJapanCoronavirus

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has enthusiastically promoted anti-influenza drug Avigan as a possible game-changer in the war against the coronavirus, but medical experts have called for caution, citing its side effects and yet unproven efficacy.

“Avigan has already been administered in more than 120 cases and we are receiving reports that it is effective in alleviating symptoms of the novel coronavirus,” Abe told a press conference on April 7, referring to the drug developed by a group firm of Fujifilm Holdings Corp. that is currently undergoing clinical tests on coronavirus patients.

“We intend to expand to the greatest possible extent its administration to patients wishing to take it…To make that possible, we will increase our stockpile of Avigan to three times the current level, enough to treat 2 million people,” the premier said.

The Japanese government has been raising expectations that the Fujifilm Toyama Chemical Co.-developed drug can be an effective coronavirus treatment, even before clinical tests have shown it to be safe or effective for use in treating sufferers of the COVID-19 disease.

A scientific study in China concluded in March that the drug has been effective for patients, especially among those with mild symptoms. Beijing has said it will officially adopt the drug as part of its treatment guidelines for COVID-19 patients.

[Supplied photo of Avigan]

But medical experts warn the drug, also known as Favipiravir, may cause birth defects. It cannot be administered to expecting mothers or those who may become pregnant, while careful consideration must be given to allowing men to take it as it is distributed into semen.

As Avigan can inhibit the replication of the virus in cells, experts say it may bring about improvements for those with mild symptoms or those who have recently been infected. It may, however, be much more ineffective for those in whom the virus has already multiplied widely and are experiencing severe symptoms.

They also said Avigan is just one of the options among other candidates as a treatment for the new coronavirus. Those include anti-viral drug Remdesivir, developed as a possible treatment for Ebola virus disease, Ciclesonide, a drug used to treat asthma, and Nafamostat, used to treat acute pancreatitis.

Regarding U.S. firm Gilead Sciences Inc.’s Remdesivir, The New England Journal of Medicine published a preliminary study by an international team on April 10 showing the drug’s effectiveness in some 70 percent of coronavirus patients with severe symptoms.

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Categories: Health

1 reply

  1. TOKYO – It is approved for use in flu outbreaks and has been deployed to treat Ebola, but now Avigan is being trialled as a potential coronavirus treatment.

    Here are some questions and answers about the anti-viral medication:

    What is Avigan?

    Avigan is the brand name of the drug favipiravir. It was developed by what is now known as Fujifilm Toyama Chemical and approved for use in Japan in 2014.

    But in Japan, it is only approved for use in flu outbreaks that aren’t being effectively addressed by existing medications. It is not available on the market and can only be manufactured and distributed at the request of the Japanese government.

    Japan weighs offering anti-flu drug to nations
    GPO gearing up to produce Favipiravir
    Remdesivir: The COVID-19 drug helping patients recover faster
    Favipiravir works by blocking the ability of a virus to replicate inside a cell.

    There are some safety concerns: it has been shown in animal studies to affect foetal development, meaning it is not given to pregnant women, and some doctors say they would not recommend it for children or adolescents.

    How is it being used to treat coronavirus?

    Some doctors began trying favipiravir to treat coronavirus patients early on, reasoning that its anti-viral properties would be applicable.

    Some initial results suggested the drug could help shorten recovery time for patients, with China’s ministry of science and technology hailing it as yielding “very good clinical results”.

    There are currently around five clinical trials ongoing in countries including the US, Italy and Japan, where Fujifilm announced it would be testing the drug’s efficacy on a group of 100 patients through until the end of June.

    The Japan study will involve administering the drug for up to 14 days to patients between 20 and 74 with mild pneumonia.

    Gaetan Burgio, a geneticist at Australian National University’s College of Health and Medicine, said the trials would be looking at a variety of factors.

    They include clinical outcomes — meaning effects on fever, cough, oxygenation, recovery time and time spent in hospital — as well as how quickly the virus clears the system, along with x-rays or CT scans for pneumonia.

    “If we see a significant reduction in clinical outcome and lower viral load from the favipiravir group, this would be a good sign for a larger-scale clinical trial,” he told AFP.

    What sets these trials apart?

    While doctors have already been experimenting with favipiravir for treating coronavirus patients, these trials will be conducted according to rigorous guidelines intended to ensure the drug is safe and effective across a broad range of patients.

    “Smaller studies have been reported but it’s hard to draw conclusions from these as patient numbers are small and the trials often don’t compare versus (a regime of) best supportive care and placebo, more often to another drug,” said Stephen Griffin, a virologist at the University of Leeds.

    “The big trials should be segregated according to disease severity and will compare to placebo.”

    How does it compare to other drugs?

    Scientists are studying a wide variety of drugs for possible treatment of coronavirus patients, including remdesivir, another antiviral.

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