Russia recently joined the international movement to develop a COVID-19 treatment when it approved an anti-influenza drug, Avifavir, to treat patients with the coronavirus. This makes Avifavir the first favipiravir-based drug in the world to be approved for public use.
What Is Avifavir?
Avifavir is known generically as favipiravir, an antiviral medication developed in the late 1990s by a Japanese company later bought by Fujifilm as it transitioned into the healthcare sector.
Favipiravir is designed to short circuit the reproduction capabilities of RNA viruses. As a result, the drug may potentially have an antiviral effect on the viruses classified into the same type (single-stranded RNA virus) as influenza virus, including COVID-19.
In the process of testing the drug against a range of viruses, scientists determined that the same properties that help favipiravir destroy viruses also makes it destructive to the rapid cell growth of fetuses. In other words, favipiravir may cause birth defects for pregnant women or those trying to conceive.
When the drug was finally approved in Japan in 2014, it was only granted for emergency use against flu epidemics. Accordingly, Japan provided favipiravir as an emergency treatment for the Ebola virus outbreak in 2016. Now Japan is aggressively testing favipiravir under the name of Avigan as a coronavirus treatment, but its approval is still pending.
According to Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) head Kirill Dmitriev, Russian scientists modified favipiravir to enhance its efficiency. After a 10-day clinical trial involving 330 people, Russian scientists concluded that Avifavir successfully treats the coronavirus within four days on average. Overall, the efficacy of the drug was reported above 80%.
However, those clinical trials were performed rapidly on a relatively small number of people, leading other countries to suggest that Russia’s early-stage success may not guarantee the same positive data in more comprehensive trials.
Dmitriev explained Russia’s accelerated testing timeline by noting that Russia first registered favipiravir in 2014 and performed significant testing on it before modifying it for the purpose of treating COVID-19.
“We believe this is a game changer. It will reduce strain on the healthcare system, we’ll have fewer people getting into a critical condition,” said Dmitriev. “We believe that the drug is key to resuming full economic activity in Russia.”
Avifavir Available For Hospital Use By June 11, 2020
The first batches of Avifavir were sent to Russia’s Federal Service for Surveillance in healthcare for approval for use in early June. Following that approval, batches of the new treatment will be made available to Russian hospitals by June 11.
In partnership with drug manufacturer ChemRar Group, RDIF has committed to deliver 60,000 courses of Avifavir to Russian hospitals this month, making it among the world’s first coronavirus treatments to be approved for use.
The availability of a new drug could prove vital for Russia, which has the third highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the world.