The government will soon approve the anti-viral drug Remdesivir for treatment of coronavirus patients, Japan’s first such decision amid the pandemic, according to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

A government official said separately that the drug will be approved as early as next month to treat patients with COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus, as moves to develop therapeutic drugs and vaccines have been accelerating around the globe.

“The pharmaceutical approval (of Remdesivir) will be possible shortly,” Abe told a Diet session Monday.

Remdesivir was developed by U.S. biopharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences Inc. as a possible treatment for Ebola.

A clinical test conducted by an international team on patients with severe COVID-19 symptoms will be concluded this month.

The New England Journal of Medicine recently published a study showing the drug’s effectiveness in nearly 70 percent of 53 coronavirus patients with severe symptoms, while causing serious side-effects, such as deterioration in kidney function, in a quarter of them.

A spokesperson for the Japan unit of Gilead Sciences said, “We are currently conducting clinical tests and are focused on confirming the drug’s efficacy and safety.”

Once an application by Gilead Sciences is made, Japan’s government is set to fast-track its approval. This streamlined process — which involves postponing reports on domestic clinical tests to a later date — is available on condition that the drug has been approved in a foreign country.

The anti-influenza drug Avigan is also going through clinical tests in Japan on COVID-19 patients, which will last through June. A scientific study in China has shown its efficacy in treating the disease.

The government has requested that Fujifilm Toyama Chemical Co., a group firm of Fujifilm Holdings Corp., boost production of Avigan, also known as favipiravir. As it is feared to cause birth defects, it cannot be administered to pregnant women or women who may become pregnant.

Shionogi & Co. said Monday it will develop a vaccine for the coronavirus, aiming to start clinical trials this year.

The Osaka-based company has decided to develop a recombinant protein vaccine for the virus that causes COVID-19 through its subsidiary UMN Pharma Inc., while also seeking to discover therapeutic drugs for the disease. Shionogi said it is looking to offer the vaccine for 10 million people.

The company is coordinating its plans with relevant parties, including the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry.


Your news needs your support

Since the early stages of the COVID-19 crisis, The Japan Times has been providing free access to crucial news on the impact of the novel coronavirus as well as practical information about how to cope with the pandemic. Please consider subscribing today so we can continue offering you up-to-date, in-depth news about Japan.

Coronavirus banner