Japanese company Fujifilm has launched a Phase II clinical trial of its influenza drug Avigan (favipiravir) to treat Covid-19 patients in the US.

Approved in 2014 in Japan, Avigan specifically targets RNA polymerase required for influenza virus replication.

This mechanism is also expected to have an antiviral effect on the novel coronavirus, which is a single-stranded RNA virus similar to influenza and requires viral RNA polymerase.

For the new study in the US,  around 50 coronavirus patients will be enrolled at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Massachusetts General Hospital and the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

The trial will evaluate the drug’s safety and efficacy as a potential Covid-19 therapy.

Apart from treatment studies for Covid-19, the company is working to boost the production of Avigan to help fight the pandemic.

In a statement, Fujifilm said: “Fujifilm will continue to work to establish a treatment method for Covid-19 patients through conducting clinical trials, and to contribute to ending the spread of this global pandemic as soon as possible by increasing the production of Avigan in collaboration with strategic partners.”

Avigan is intended for use during new or re-emerging influenza virus outbreaks when other treatments are not adequately effective.

It is produced and distributed upon request by the government of Japan, which has a stockpile of the drug. Avigan was never distributed in the market and is not available at hospitals and pharmacies in Japan or internationally.

Earlier this month, Fujifilm commenced a Phase III trial of Avigan for the treatment of Covid-19 patients in Japan.