As of February 25th 2020, there have been 80, 354 reported cases of COVID-19 (Wuhan coronavirus), including 2,707 deaths and 27,898 recoveries. Currently with no official treatment, drug companies around the world are scrambling to offer existing medicines as possible cures and treatments. Now, Chinese authorities have granted favipiravir, an experimental antiviral treatment designed for influenza, approval for clinical trials to see whether it works against coronavirus as well.
Developed by Japan’s Fujifilm Toyama Chemical pharmaceutical company, favipiravir is an RNA-dependent RNA polymerase inhibitor that works by preventing viruses from replicating. Having shown promise in treating a wide range of viruses including other varieties of coronavirus, previous studies have shown that the drug carries a risk of teratogenicity (disturbing the development of an embryo or foetus) and embryotoxicity capable of causing congenital disabilities. Thus, until now, health authorities in Japan have granted it conditional approval- only allowing it for serious viral outbreaks such as avian influenza or Ebola virus.
Its approval to begin trials in China however came following tests on 70 patients infected with coronavirus in Shenzhen, Guangdong province. Demonstrating an encouraging profile after treating patients with mild to adverse reactions to the virus, the drug now joins two other drugs, antimalarial drug chloroquine, and Gilead’s experimental treatment remdesivir, in addressing the coronavirus outbreak.
Chloroquine is currently under examination in over 100 patients in more than 10 hospitals between Beijing and Guangdong province. In trials until now, doctors have reported that groups of patients taking the drug have been able to recover from feverous symptoms, have demonstrated improved computed tomography (CT) scans of lungs and have become negative in viral nucleic acid tests at a larger rate than those on parallel treatments.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said that remdesivir “may be the best shot for treating the coronavirus”. This comes after an American patient who contracted coronavirus recovered fully following treatment with the drug, alongside other trials demonstrating its efficacy in alleviating symptoms, and a previous study showing it to be effective in preventing the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus when given prior infection.