Chinese official claims Fujifilm's Avigan "clearly effective" in treating COVID-19

Results of clinical studies conducted in China suggest that Fujifilm's Avigan (favipiravir) may be effective at treating patients with COVID-19. Zhang Xinmin, director of the China National Center for Biotechnology Development under the Ministry of Science and Technology, remarked "it has a high degree of safety and is clearly effective in treatment," with the company's shares Wednesday jumping as much as 15% on the news.

In trials conducted on 200 patients in Wuhan and Shenzhen, Avigan was shown to reduce pneumonia symptoms, while subjects who received the drug tested negative for the SARS-CoV-2 virus in a shorter time. Results indicated that patients taking Avigan tested negative after a median of four days, compared to 11 days in the control group, according to Zhang.

Meanwhile, in another study conducted in Wuhan, results showed that patients with COVID-19 who received Avigan recovered from fever in 2.5 days on average, versus 4.2 days for other patients. Further, coughing symptoms also improved within 4.6 days, which was about 1.4 days earlier than those who did not take the drug. In addition, 8.2% of patients administered Avigan required respiratory aids, compared to 17.1% of those in the control group.

Commenting on the news, a Fujifilm spokesperson said the company was not involved in the clinical trials and is currently evaluating the results. The drugmaker is providing Avigan to Japanese hospitals for clinical research and is also preparing to conduct its own clinical studies in Japan. Earlier this month, a trial began in Japan, led by Fujita Health University, which is expected to investigate Avigan in about 80 patients who have tested positive for COVID-19 with no symptoms or mild symptoms.

Avigan gained approval in 2014 from regulators in Japan, with the viral RNA polymerase inhibitor indicated for novel or re-emerging influenza virus infections. The spokesperson noted that Fujifilm only manufactures the drug on receiving orders from the Japanese government.

In 2016, Fujifilm agreed to licence the active ingredient in Avigan to Hisun Pharmaceutical, allowing the Chinese company to use the drug to develop, produce and market an anti-influenza treatment in its domestic market. However, the Fujifilm spokesperson noted that the agreement was cancelled last year, although the two parties are still in a "cooperative relationship."

Earlier this year, Hisun disclosed that it received approval in China to produce a generic version of Avigan. According to the Fujifilm spokesperson, the drug's patent in China expired last year.

For related analysis, see KOL Views Results: Leading virologist hopeful therapeutics may be ready for likely re-emergence of COVID-19.

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