Report: Japanese flu drug could help treat coronavirus

A Japanese drug for treating the flu could help fight the coronavirus, The Guardian newspaper reported Wednesday.

Favipiravir was found to be effective at treating the virus and restoring lung function in 340 Chinese patients, Japanese media originally reported. The global spread of COVID-19 has put the world on edge and desperate for a cure, as nearly 10,000 people have died around the world and more than 230,000 are infected, according to a tracker provided by Johns Hopkins University.

“It has a high degree of safety and is clearly effective in treatment,” Zhang Xinmin, an official at China’s science and technology ministry, said of the drug Tuesday, according to The Guardian.

Fighting the coronavirus

According to The Guardian, favipiravir was given to 340 patients in Wuhan — where the virus is believed to have originated — and Shenzhen, China with promising results. Experimental trials found that those who took the drug took four days to test negative, compared with 11 days for those who did not take it, the outlet noted.

The drug was also found to help with lung function. Ninety-one percent of those who took it saw improved lung condition, compared with 62% of those who did not, The Guardian reported.

However, a source in Japan’s health ministry said the drug was not very effective on those with severe symptoms. Doctors in Japan have used the drug, also called Avigan, on patients with mild to moderate symptoms in clinical trials.

“We’ve given Avigan to 70 to 80 people, but it doesn’t seem to work that well when the virus has already multiplied,” the source told the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper, according to The Guardian.

Trump hails “gamechanger” drug

These kinds of mixed messages have shadowed efforts so far to find a cure. The mainstream media similarly rushed to dampen hopes Thursday when President Trump declared that a drug for fighting malaria called chloroquine could be a “gamechanger.”

While the decades-old drug has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat COVID-19, it could potentially be used off-label for “compassionate use” to treat some patients, according to a report from the Associated Press. FDA commissioner Stephen Hahn said Thursday that he did not want to provide “false hope,” but that the administration is optimistic, Fox News reported.

Trump, meanwhile, said Thursday that he has “directed the FDA to eliminate rules and bureaucracy so work can proceed rapidly, quickly, and fast,” adding: “We have to remove every barrier.”

The race for a cure comes as the number of cases in the U.S. surges past 13,000, according to Johns Hopkins University’s tracker, and least 175 Americans have died from the disease.

There is currently no vaccine for COVID-19, and health officials have said it will likely take at least 18 months to get one. In America, the first experimental trials for a vaccine started in Seattle on Monday.

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