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Fujifilm’s flu drug Avigan improves COVID-19 recovery time, setting up filing in Japan

Six months after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, the list of drugs with proven efficacy against the virus remains short. On Wednesday, Fujifilm added its flu drug Avigan.

In a phase 3 study of the flu drug in 156 coronavirus patients with non-severe pneumonia, those who received Avigan recovered in 11.9 days at the median, compared with 14.7 days for those who received placebo. Investigators defined recovery as a negative COVID test and relief from symptoms.  

Fujifilm started the study back in March as the COVID-19 pandemic was gaining steam. With the results, the company plans to seek approval in Japan; that could come as early as next month, the drugmaker says. 

Avigan is already approved in Japan to treat new or reemerging infleunza; early in the coronavirus pandemic, researchers highlighted the antiviral’s potential against the novel coronavirus.  

Fujfilm responded by running the trial and boosting production of the drug. The company signed a licensing deal with Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories and Global Response Aid to enable production for countries around the world.  

But the med’s path to positive coronavirus data wasn’t always certain. A prior trial from Fujita Health University turned in inconclusive results, and the Fujifilm study was stuck in enrollment until at least late July. Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, previously said the drug could be approved in COVID-19 by May.

In the U.S., the Trump administration eyed Avigan as a potential coronavirus treatment early in the pandemic, according to a Politico report. The FDA hasn’t issued an emergency use authorization for the drug in COVID-19, and U.S. officials have never approved it in influenza. The agency has signed off on studies of the medicine in COVID-19, though. 

Aside from Avigan, a few other medicines have demonstrated efficacy in COVID-19. Gilead Sciences’ remdesivir, Eli Lilly’s Olumiant in combination with remdesivir, Roche’s Actemra and older steroids such as dexamethasone, have posted positive data so far. Meanwhile, drugmakers are advancing novel antibodies and vaccines, with some already in late-stage testing.