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Japanese-Developed Flu Drug Avigan Seems Effective Against COVID-19

By Prosper Junior Bakiny - Updated Mar 24, 2020 at 1:07PM

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Early studies show the influenza treatment significantly shortens coronavirus illnesses and improves lung function in patients.

Worldwide, there are now more than 222,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and the novel coronavirus has caused more than 9,000 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center. But there is some good news coming out of China. Researchers have found that Avigan, a drug developed in Japan for the flu, appears to significantly speed up recovery from COVID-19.

According to a Chinese researcher, the drug was used in clinical trials in the regions of Wuhan and Shenzhen. Patients who took the drug turned negative for the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes the disease in a median of four days after they had become positive -- much faster than patients not taking the drug, who turned negative for the virus in a median of 11 days. Also, 91% of the patients who received the medicine saw their lung functions improve, compared to just 62% of those who didn't take the drug. 

Woman wearing face mask

Image Source: Getty Images.

More research needs to be done

It is too early to declare Avigan as an effective treatment for COVID-19 -- more clinical tests will need to be conducted. And the drug, which is owned by Fujifilm Holdings (FUJIY -1.86%), has the potential to cause serious birth defects if taken by pregnant women, so it must be used only under proper medical supervision.

Many other pharmaceutical and biotech companies are looking to develop treatments for the potentially deadly disease, or find them in their existing catalogs. Gilead Sciences (GILD -0.03%) has taken what appears to be an early lead in that quest. On Feb. 26, the biotech company initiated two phase 3 clinical trials in several Asian countries to investigate the efficacy of its antiviral drug, remdesivir, as a treatment for COVID-19. Those trials will enroll a total of 1,000 COVID-19 patients, 600 of whom have moderate manifestations of the disease, and 400 of whom are experiencing more severe cases. Patients in the studies will be given oral doses of remdesivir for five or 10 days. 

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