• Reuters, Jiji

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Fujifilm Holdings Corp. said on Wednesday it started a new late-stage trial in Japan of its Avigan drug for COVID-19, reviving hopes for a home-grown treatment for the virus.

Domestic approval for the antiviral drug to treat the coronavirus was dealt a setback in December after a health ministry panel said that trial data was inconclusive.

Fujifilm has over the years pivoted from its traditional camera and office solutions businesses to health care.

The new double-blind, placebo-controlled study is targeting patients aged 50 and older, as well as those at risk of developing serious conditions, Fujifilm said in a release.

Avigan, known generically as favipiravir, has been studied in dozens of trials worldwide, and it has been approved as a COVID-19 treatment in Russia, India and Indonesia. But concerns remain, as the drug has been shown to cause birth defects in animal studies.

Japan has already approved Avigan as an emergency flu medicine, and the government last year called on Fujifilm to triple national stockpiles of the drug.

Meanwhile, a health ministry panel on Wednesday endorsed a plan to approve the use of baricitinib, a drug for rheumatoid arthritis, for COVID-19 treatment in Japan.

Baricitinib, which is expected to get the health ministry's formal authorization shortly, will be the third drug to be approved as a COVID-19 therapy in Japan, after remdesivir and dexamethasone.

Eli Lilly Japan K.K. applied for approval of baricitinib's use for COVID-19 patients in Japan in December last year.

The Pharmaceutical Affairs and Food Sanitation Council gave its nod to the drug, sold under the brand name Olumiant, at a subcommittee meeting on Wednesday.

Baricitinib will be administered to coronavirus patients with moderate to severe symptoms who need to be given oxygen, in combination with remdesivir.

In November last year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the emergency use of baricitinib to treat COVID-19 patients.

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