Flu drug Avigan tested against fatal tick-borne disease

Kyodo

Japanese researchers have recently begun a clinical study of the flu drug Avigan to see if it can cure a tick-transmitted infectious disease that has a relatively high fatality rate and no effective treatment.

Avigan, developed by a unit of Tokyo-based Fujifilm Holdings Corp., is known to be effective in treating Ebola. Lab tests on mice have indicated the drug could also work against SFTS, or severe fever with thrombocytopenia syndrome.

Symptoms of SFTS include fever and diarrhea, and the disease has a fatality rate ranging from 6 percent to 30 percent. The viral disease was first reported in China in 2011. In Japan the first infection among those who had not been overseas was reported in 2013, according to the health ministry.

The study is being conducted by the National Institute of Infectious Diseases, Ehime University and Nagasaki University, with more than 30 medical institutions expected to take part.

Masaki Yasukawa, vice president of Ehime University, said the researchers aim to give the drug to 25 people, roughly half of the number of SFTS patients reported annually in Japan.

As of June 29, Japan had seen 195 people infected with the SFTS virus; 47 died.

Most of the patients were in their 50s and over, according to the institute.

In previous experiments on mice, a team of researchers at the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry found that about half of those infected, even in the advanced stages, survived after receiving Avigan, while almost all of those not given a dose died.

Avigan, also known as Favipiravir, was developed by Fujifilm subsidiary Toyama Chemical Co. Clinical tests last year by the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research showed the drug was safe and effective in treating Ebola.