U.S. to Trial Japanese Anti-Flu Drug Avigan for Potential Coronavirus Treatment

Avigan, the Japanese anti-viral drug being tested in Japan and China for its potential use as a treatment for the novel coronavirus, will also begin its first U.S. clinical trials in Massachusetts, the drug's manufacturer, Fujifilm Corporation, announced.

Avigan (also known as favipiravir), approved for manufacture and sale in Japan back in 2014, is said to fight influenza by interfering with the virus replication process. Avigan "selectively inhibits RNA (ribonucleic acid) polymerase necessary for influenza virus replication," Fujifilm noted in a statement.

"Due to this mechanism of action, it is expected that Avigan may potentially have an antiviral effect on the new coronavirus, because like influenza viruses, coronaviruses are single-stranded RNA viruses that also depend on viral RNA polymerase," the company explained.

The drug will be tested on nearly 50 COVID-19 patients at three hospitals in Massachusetts, including Brigham and Women's Hospital, Massachusetts General Hospital, and the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

Last month, Fujifilm began its phase three "clinical trial to evaluate the safety and efficacy of the drug" for the treatment of COVID-19 patients in Japan, the company announced. Avigan is also being tested in China as a treatment for the novel coronavirus. Japan is hoping to triple its production of Avigan, of which currently there is enough to treat around 700,000 people, local media reported last Sunday.

Fujifilm also noted: "The drug is to be supplied only at the discretion of Japan's Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry. It is therefore only manufactured and distributed upon request by the Japanese Government. As such Avigan has never been generally distributed in the market and is not available at hospitals and pharmacies in Japan."

On Friday, a team of scientists at Oxford University claimed there may be a vaccine available for public use by this September.

"That is just about possible if everything goes perfectly. We have to go for that. Nobody can give any guarantees, nobody can promise it's going to work and nobody can give you a definite date, but we have to do all we can as fast as we can," Sarah Gilbert, a professor of vaccinology at Oxford University who has been working on a vaccine with a team of researchers, told the London-based newspaper The Times.

The group has reportedly developed a vaccine that is ready to go into clinical trials in around two weeks. The vaccine has an 80 percent chance of being successful based on the evidence observed so far, Gilbert noted.

Last month, at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Washington state began the first vaccine trial for the novel coronavirus. The vaccine, developed by biotech company Moderna, uses a segment of the virus' genetic code rather than a piece of the virus, which scientists hope should make it faster to develop.

The trial will observe the safety of various doses and whether it ignites the immune system among its 45 participants, who are aged between 18 and 55 with no health conditions, over 14 months.

China's biopharmaceutical company, CanSino Biologics, last month announced its vaccine Ad5-nCoV had been approved to start a phase one clinical trial in humans. Developed in collaboration with the Beijing Institute of Biotechnology, it is the first novel coronavirus vaccine to reach this stage in China, the company noted in a statement.

The team hopes the vaccine will initiate the creation of antibodies against the COVID-19 virus by taking a piece of its genetic code and combining it with a harmless virus.

"Results from preclinical animal studies of 'Ad5-nCoV' show that the vaccine candidate can induce strong immune response in animal models. The preclinical animal safety studies demonstrated a good safety profile," CanSino Biologics noted.

Japan's anti-flu drug Avigan
Japan's Fujifilm Corporation has already begun clinical trials to test the effectiveness of its anti-flu drug Avigan (pictured) in treating patients with the new coronavirus. Getty Images

The COVID-19 virus, which was first detected in Wuhan, China, has spread to more than 1.7 million people in at least 185 countries and regions, according to the latest figures from Johns Hopkins University. More than 404,000 people have recovered from infection, while more than 108,000 have died so far. The U.S. is the current epicenter of the outbreak, with nearly 530,000 confirmed cases, as of Sunday.

The graphic below, provided by Statista, illustrates the spread of COVID-19 across the globe.

This infographic shows the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases around the world as of April 9. Statista

Data on COVID-19 cases is from Johns Hopkins University unless otherwise stated.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Advice on Using Face Coverings to Slow Spread of COVID-19

  • CDC recommends wearing a cloth face covering in public where social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.
  • A simple cloth face covering can help slow the spread of the virus by those infected and by those who do not exhibit symptoms.
  • Cloth face coverings can be fashioned from household items. Guides are offered by the CDC. (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/diy-cloth-face-coverings.html)
  • Cloth face coverings should be washed regularly. A washing machine will suffice.
  • Practice safe removal of face coverings by not touching eyes, nose, and mouth, and wash hands immediately after removing the covering.

World Health Organization advice for avoiding spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19)

Hygiene advice

  • Clean hands frequently with soap and water, or alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Wash hands after coughing or sneezing; when caring for the sick; before, during and after food preparation; before eating; after using the toilet; when hands are visibly dirty; and after handling animals or waste.
  • Maintain at least 1 meter (3 feet) distance from anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoid touching your hands, nose and mouth. Do not spit in public.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or bent elbow when coughing or sneezing. Discard the tissue immediately and clean your hands.

Medical advice

  • Avoid close contact with others if you have any symptoms.
  • Stay at home if you feel unwell, even with mild symptoms such as headache and runny nose, to avoid potential spread of the disease to medical facilities and other people.
  • If you develop serious symptoms (fever, cough, difficulty breathing) seek medical care early and contact local health authorities in advance.
  • Note any recent contact with others and travel details to provide to authorities who can trace and prevent spread of the disease.
  • Stay up to date on COVID-19 developments issued by health authorities and follow their guidance.

Mask and glove usage

  • Healthy individuals only need to wear a mask if taking care of a sick person.
  • Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.
  • Masks are effective when used in combination with frequent hand cleaning.
  • Do not touch the mask while wearing it. Clean hands if you touch the mask.
  • Learn how to properly put on, remove and dispose of masks. Clean hands after disposing of the mask.
  • Do not reuse single-use masks.
  • Regularly washing bare hands is more effective against catching COVID-19 than wearing rubber gloves.
  • The COVID-19 virus can still be picked up on rubber gloves and transmitted by touching your face.