Fujifilm's Toyama unit set to publish promising early clinical results in treating Ebola

SINGAPORE--Fujifilm's Toyama Chemical is readying a study for a scientific journal stating that its Avigan (favipiravir) influenza drug has shown promise in treating ebolavirus so far in an early-phase clinical trial in the West African country of Guinea.

Ebolavirus under an electron microscope--Courtesy of CDC

The news, reported by the New York Times and AFP, came on the heels of a Fujifilm announcement that it and France's Bioaster research institute would join in a separate effort to develop a rapid diagnostic for detecting the disease at an early stage.

Researchers on the Guinea study said the trial revealed that the drug, which was approved for Japan's market only a few months ago for treating flu, cut mortality in half for patients in early stages of the disease, those with low to moderate levels of the virus in their blood. Apparently, it was not nearly as effective in treating those with higher blood levels.

Of the 80 patients who started the trial, 69 remained at two Guinea sites, all 15 years of age or older who demonstrated the drug was well-tolerated, researchers said. Their mortality rate was 30% for those with high levels of the virus in their blood and 15% for those with lower levels. Because of Ebola's high mortality rate, no placebos were used and all participants received favipiravir, known as T-705 in the study.

The French Institute for Health and Medical Research (Inserm) is a sponsor of the trials and plans to submit the study soon to a journal for publication. The preliminary results were obtained rather quickly, considering the trial only began Dec. 17.

Médicins Sans Frontières said that if the drug is shown to be safe and effective in the Phase I trial, it would be made available to patients in other treatment centers entering advanced trials.

The Guinea study helped to emphasize the importance of the planned Fujifilm and Bioaster work to invent a simple, small, portable and rapid diagnostic system capable of detecting the virus at the earliest stage possible.

The aim is to combine Fujifilm's virus-detection technology to detect Ebola antibodies produced and evaluated by Bioaster. Several French institutions besides Inserm have committed to cooperate in the research.

Avigan has also been used widely in West Africa as an emergency treatment for the virus. In advance of the decision to make it widely available, Fujifilm said it would ramp up production to increase its Avigan stockpile of 20,000 as of last October and its 300,000 API courses.

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