FDA approves first U.S. trial of Japanese flu drug Avigan to treat coronavirus

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has given the green light for the country’s first clinical trial of a Japanese flu drug – known as Avigan – that could be used to treat the coronavirus.

Three Massachusetts hospitals were given the approval on Tuesday to launch small trials of the antiviral drug, a doctor involved in the efforts told the Boston Globe. They are Massachusetts General Hospital, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and UMass Memorial Health Care in Worcester.

The U.S. trials would involve around 50 or 60 patients with the coronavirus, the Boston Globe reported.

The antiviral drug, also known as favipiravir and developed by Japanese company Fujifilm Toyama Chemical Company, has emerged as a  potential drug to treat patients infected with the coronavirus pandemic.

It was hailed by Chinese health officials as “clearly effective” when used on 340 patients in trials in the Chinese city of Shenzhen, showing reduced recovery time and improved lung function.

These patients tested negative for the virus with a median of four days after becoming positive — much lower than the average of 11 days for those who were not given the medicine,  the Guardian reported.

Dr. Keith T. Flaherty from the Massachusetts General Hospital said the Avigan study was among the more promising of around 30 clinical trials considered by the hospital.

“We have to prioritise, and this absolutely rose to the top,” Flaherty told the Boston Globe.

On April 5, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said his country is planning to provide nations stricken by the coronavirus pandemic with the anti-flu drug Avigan free of charge. He said the clinical trials were underway in the Asian country to examine its effectiveness and safety for potential use in treating symptoms caused by the pandemic.
Suga told local reporters that the government had so far received requests for the new drug from about 30 countries.
The government intends to expand clinical trials of Avigan while having discussions with the countries that placed the requests, he added.
The Asian country said it would provide each of those nations with the amount of the drug they need, free of charge.
A week earlier, Nikkei Asian Review reported that the German government seeks to purchase large amounts of Avigan to treat coronavirus patients with severe illness.
Germany is aiming for short-term stockpiling of Avigan, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported.