An anti-flu drug developed by Fujifilm, a Japanese conglomerate better known for its cameras, may just have become the leading contender in the race to find a viable treatment for Ebola. Japan’s health ministry approved the company’s drug Favipiravir for use in treating Ebola patients yesterday, causing shares to rise 5.3% to ¥3,244 (£18.85).
The drug, which has the market name Avigan, was developed by Fujifilm’s subsidiary Toyama Chemical Co to fight flu, but has possible applications for Ebola treatment too.
Japan's thumbs up puts Favipiravir in pole position to be the first drug used in widescale treatment of the West and Central African Ebola outbreak, which has so far killed up to 1,400 people.
Unlike US-based Mapp Pharmaceutical’s Zmapp, supplies of which have been effectively exhausted treating six patients (two of whom have died), Favipiravir has been produced in large quantities since March, when Japan began stockpiling it against flu epidemics.
The drug works by inhibiting gene replication in infected cells, and comes in the form of a pill. ‘Since Ebola and influenza viruses are the same type,’ said Fujifilm spokesman Takao Aoki. 'Theoretically, the same effects can be expected on Ebola.’
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the company’s Favipiravir stock of 20,000 could be made available whenever the WHO or medical officials in affected countries request it. Fujifilm and its US partner MediVector are in talks with the US Food and Drug Administration about fast-tracking clinical trials.
There are other companies searching for an Ebola cure, but it's only became any kind of urgent due to the media coverage around the latest outbreak. Sadly, there isn't much money to be made in treating diseases that affect relatively small numbers of poor people.