Fujifilm ramps up production of flu drug Avigan as possible COVID-19 treatment

Fujifilm says it is prepared to offer Avigan to any country that wants to try it as a potential treatment for COVID-19. But even as it has restarted production, the Japanese drugmaker feels compelled to set the record straight about the influenza drug.  

“Avigan has never been distributed in the market and is not available at hospitals and pharmacies in Japan or overseas,” it said in an announcement.  

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The drug, developed by Fujifilm unit Toyama Chemical, was approved in 2014 as an influenza treatment but only to be used if other treatments prove ineffective against a novel or re-emerging influenza virus. 

The Japanese company issued the clarification Friday as interest in the drug builds. That follows reports that clinical trials of the drug in China showed it effective against COVID-19. Over the weekend, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the government would begin trials of the drug on COVID-19 in cooperation with other countries and ramp up production with the aim of a quick approval, the Nikkei Asia Review reports.   

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Fujifilm pointed out in its announcement that favipiravir, the active pharmaceutical ingredient in the tablet, has a “mechanism of action that prevents the propagation of viruses…that might  have an antiviral effect on the novel coronavirus." COVID-19 is classified into the same type (single-stranded RNA virus) as influenza virus. To test that possibility, clinical trials are underway to seek “clear evidence of the drug's efficacy and safety,” Fujifilm said.

Avigan has been rolled out before, including in 2015 against Ebola and in 2016 for avian influenza. At the time, the company made this prophetic observation:

"The need to develop new drugs for treating influenza has come amidst mounting concerns--in recent years that avian influenza viruses could mutate into a new type of virus, capable of human-to-human transmission. Such a mutation could potentially trigger a pandemic."