Fujifilm Toyama Chemical has started a Phase III clinical trial of its antiviral influenza drug Avigan (favipiravir) for the treatment of Covid-19 patients in Japan.

Avigan specifically blocks RNA polymerase associated with influenza viral replication.

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The mechanism is expected to have an antiviral effect on SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes Covid-19.

In Japan, the new Phase III trial will assess Avigan’s safety and efficacy as a potential Covid-19 treatment.

Last month, China’s Science and Technology Ministry official Zhang Xinmin said that favipiravir helped patients recover in an 80-day participant trial conducted in Shenzhen city.

According to the study data, the drug was able to shorten the recovery time from 11 days to four days for mild and moderate cases.

Favipiravir secured Chinese approval for manufacturing by Zhejiang Hisun Pharmaceutical to treat adults with new or recurring influenza. It also holds approval in China as an investigational treatment for Covid-19.

Approved in 2014 for manufacture and sale in Japan for treating influenza, Avigan is intended for use during new or re-emerging influenza virus outbreaks when other drugs are not effective.

Avigan is manufactured and distributed upon request by the government of Japan, which has a stockpile of the drug.

The drug was never distributed in the market and is not available at hospitals and pharmacies in Japan or internationally.

Early last month, Fujifilm started efforts to boost the manufacture of Avigan, with plans to speed-up the production via domestic and international partnerships to meet demand globally.

The company said in a statement: “Fujifilm intends to sincerely cooperate with the supply of Avigan to such countries in consultation and coordination with the Japanese Government to combat Covid-19 and contribute to tackling the spread of this global pandemic at the earliest possible stage.”