New flu drug to be cleared for emergency use against Ebola in Japan


A health ministry panel agreed Friday that doctors in Japan should be able to use a new domestically produced influenza drug to treat people who get infected with the deadly Ebola virus, although it has not yet been approved for such use.

Favipiravir, marketed as Avigan Tablet, has drawn renewed attention after a French nurse recovered from Ebola after taking it in conjunction with two other types of medicine made in the United States and Canada.

Another Ebola patient who received favipiravir, developed by Toyama Chemical Co., a unit of Fujifilm Holdings Corp., has reportedly recovered in Spain.

There is no officially approved vaccine or drug available to effectively treat Ebola patients yet, but the outbreak in West Africa has accelerated efforts to find one.

Favipiravir is believed to be effective and is also the only medicine available in Japan. Animal tests have shown that the drug carries a risk of birth defects.

In urgent cases, doctors in Japan are allowed to use an unapproved medicine.

Given the limited number of experts who have experience treating infectious high-risk diseases such as Ebola in Japan, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry plans to offer advice to physicians on specific protocols to use when they feel they have to use the drug.

Japan has enough favipiravir on hand to treat about 20,000 people. Approved as a flu treatment in March, it has been stocked for shipment at the request of the health ministry to fight an outbreak of a new strain of flu.