Japan Is Racing to Test a Drug to Treat Covid-19
Based on a compound discovered in 1998, the antiviral Favipiravir is already being used in Japan and Turkey. Its maker? A subsidiary of Fujifilm.
IN LATE FEBRUARY, executives at Fujifilm’s Tokyo headquarters scrambled to coordinate with a team of 100 employees who would be responsible for a task unprecedented in its 86-year history: Japan’s health minister, Katsunobu Kato, had enlisted the camera and imaging company’s help to fight Covid-19. At that point only some 130 people in the country were infected. But a pandemic was in sight.
With the outbreak spreading fast and no vaccine or treatment on the horizon, Kato hoped to find an existing drug that could be used to treat the wave of patients that was sure to come. One candidate was an anti-influenza drug called Avigan, which had been developed decades earlier by the Fujifilm subsidiary Toyama Chemical.
In the weeks that followed, the Fujifilm team managed more than some governments could claim to have done in response to the spread of Covid-19: Working from different offices and factories, members of the group made contingency plans for ramping up production of the drug, advised clinical researchers throughout Japan, and helped get the drug to hospitals where its use had been approved by the government as an emergency measure to treat dozens of Covid-19 patients. On March 28—last Saturday—Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters that his government had begun the formal process for designating Avigan as Japan’s standard treatment for Covid-19.
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