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Major U.S. drugmaker Merck & Co. and British peer AstraZeneca PLC are planning to launch clinical trials in Japan this month for drugs to treat COVID-19, sources familiar with the matter said Friday.

Expectations are high that the drugs can be effective as treatments. A drug previously approved by the government is believed to have only limited effects.

Merck is slated to conduct a clinical trial for the antiviral drug molnupiravir, developed with U.S.-based Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, sources familiar with the matter said. The preliminary report on a U.S.-based trial has shown promise for COVID-19 treatment.

AstraZeneca will carry out a trial for its AZD7442 antibody therapy, developed using antibodies collected from coronavirus patients who have recovered, the sources said.

The antibody therapy, currently undergoing a clinical trial in the United States, is seen helping with infection prevention, in addition to treating COVID-19.

Meanwhile, an international project involving Takeda Pharmaceutical Co. is already underway to test a remedy using blood plasma from patients who recovered from COVID-19. A clinical trial began in Japan in December.

In May last year, the health ministry gave fast-track approval to remdesivir, an antiviral drug developed by U.S. firm Gilead Sciences Inc., as a COVID-19 treatment.

The World Health Organization later warned against its use, however, on the grounds that the drug’s effectiveness in improving patients’ mortality rates had not been substantiated.

The health ministry is still deliberating whether to approve the use of Avigan, an influenza drug made by Fujifilm Toyama Chemical Co., as a COVID-19 remedy.

Inoculations against COVID-19 began last month in Japan using a vaccine developed by U.S. drug giant Pfizer Inc.

AstraZeneca and U.S. biotech startup Moderna Inc. have filed for approval for their vaccines. Domestic vaccine developers are playing catch-up, with clinical trials underway.

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