• REUTERS, KYODO

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Japan is considering increasing the stockpile of Fujifilm Holding Corp.’s Avigan anti-flu drug during this fiscal year so it can be used to treat 2 million people, according to a planning document seen by Reuters.

Local media reported Sunday that Japan was hoping to triple the production of the drug from current levels, which is enough to treat 700,000 people if used by coronavirus patients.

Avigan, also known as Favipiravir, is manufactured by a subsidiary of Fujifilm, which has a health care arm although it is better known for its cameras. The drug was approved for use in Japan in 2014. Avigan is being tested in China as a treatment for COVID-19.

In the emergency stimulus package expected to be rolled out on Tuesday, the government also planned to prioritize the clinical trial process of the drug so it can be formally approved to be used in treating coronavirus patients.

Since the drug is feared to cause birth defects, it cannot be used on expectant mothers or women who might get pregnant. Therefore, the homegrown drug has never been sold on the market and the stockpile has been managed by the government as a precaution for the outbreak of an influenza from which most people are not immunized.

Fujifilm Toyama Chemical Co. began clinical tests to evaluate the efficacy of the drug to COVID-19 patients on Tuesday. If such an efficacy is confirmed, the government might approve the drug for use in COVID-19 treatment this summer.

Avigan calls for different dosages in the treatments of the coronavirus and influenza.

According to the document, Japan also plans to boost subsidies to domestic companies that supply masks and disinfectants and will secure enough capacity to supply 700 million masks a month.

The Nikkei newspaper reported on Sunday that in efforts to reduce its dependence on China as its manufacturing hub, it will subsidize companies that will move some of their production facilities back to Japan.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Friday a stimulus package to combat the coronavirus pandemic will target small firms and households hardest hit by social distancing policies that are affecting consumption.

The package will include cash payouts to small firms and households facing sharp falls in income, Abe said.

The government will also urge private financial institutions to join government-affiliated lenders in offering zero-interest rate loans to cash-strapped small and midsized firms, he said.

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