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A blood thinner used to treat pancreatitis and kidney disease has been identified as a potential therapy for COVID-19 patients, with clinical trials in Japan possibly set to begin within a month, researchers at the University of Tokyo said Wednesday.

The drug, known by the scientific name nafamostat, is an enzyme inhibitor typically used to prevent blood clots. That mechanism could potentially suppress the protein that the virus needs to enter human cells, according to the statement from the university’s Institute of Medical Science.

The research team, including Junichiro Inoue, a professor with the institute, plans to start clinical research soon with institutions such as the National Center for Global Health and Medicine.

The team discovered the drug’s potential to treat COVID-19 through an experiment simulating the coronavirus’s infection of human cells.

“We’re expecting the drug to suppress symptoms of pneumonia and other conditions,” Inoue said.

The announcement is the latest in a long list of drugs being touted as a potential treatment for the deadly coronavirus. There are no approved treatments for COVID-19 and no guarantees of one, but a slew of pharmaceutical companies have joined the race to find potential therapies, looking at everything from anti-viral molecules to plasma-based treatments using the blood of recovered patients.

Some of the researchers on the project had previously identified nafamostat’s potential to inhibit the virus that caused Middle East respiratory syndrome in a 2016 paper. German researchers had pointed to the potential efficacy of another Japanese drug called camostat, which works in a similar way, according to a paper published March 5.

Nafamostat is a generic that has been approved for use in Japan for pancreatitis and other diseases, suggesting confidence in the drug’s safety and a quick move to clinical trials, the university said.

China’s science and technology ministry has said that the Avigan influenza drug developed by an affiliate of Fujifilm Holdings Corp. has been confirmed in clinical tests to be effective in treating patients with COVID-19.

In the clinical tests at hospitals in Wuhan, Hubei province, and Shenzhen, patients given the drug were quicker to test negative for the virus and see their pneumonia symptoms improve, according to the Chinese ministry.

In Japan, the administration of Avigan to treat COVID-19 patients started last month.

Major Chinese drugmaker Zhejiang Hisun Pharmaceutical Co. plans to produce a generic version of Avigan, based on a license agreement it concluded with Fujifilm in 2016.

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