Japan to provide the UN Office $1 million grant to buy and distribute the drug
Japan plans to provide for free the anti-flu drug Avigan to 20 countries hoping to use it to treat coronavirus patients, Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said Tuesday.
The 20 countries receiving the drug, which is currently undergoing clinical tests, include Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Indonesia, Iran, Myanmar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, with an additional 30 countries showing interest, according to Motegi.
Israel is among the first countries to receive the experimental drug from Japan to treat coronavirus patients at hospitals. Russia will receive the first batch of antiviral drugs from Japan in about a week.
The drug was approved in 2014 in Japan to treat cases of influenza that unresponsive to conventional treatment.
Japan will provide the United Nations Office for Project Services with a $1 million grant to buy and distribute the drug, also known as Favipiravir, which is developed by a subsidiary of Fujifilm Holdings Corp.
“We will work with interested countries to expand clinical research on Avigan internationally,” the foreign minister told a press conference.
Researchers at Wuhan University and other institutions in China have said the drug was effective on coronavirus patients, especially for those with mild symptoms of COVID-19.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government plans to boost the stockpile of Avigan to three times the current amount for use in treating 2 million people infected with the new coronavirus.
On March 17, 2020 when Zhang Xinmin, an official at China’s ministry of science and technology, said that Favipiravir, the generic version of Avigan, had proved to be effective in treating Covid-19 patients at hospitals in Wuhan and Shenzhen, China.
South Korea declined opportunities for testing, saying “serious side effects” potentially cause fetal damage. While Avigan has been manufactured and stocked in Japan as an anti-influenza drug, there is hope it can also help treat other diseases, including Ebola and tick-borne illnesses such as Lyme disease.
The drug, developed by a group firm of Fujifilm Holdings Corp., has been stored in Japan as a treatment for influenza. But it is seen as also effective in treating the COVID-19 pneumonia caused by the virus.
Since the drug is feared to cause birth defects, it cannot be used on expectant mothers or women who might get pregnant. Therefore, the homegrown drug has never been sold on the market and the stockpile has been managed by the government as a precaution for the outbreak of an influenza with which most people are not immunized.