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Fujifilm set to make Avigan for 2 million COVID-19 patients by March

This supplied photo shows tablets of the anti-influenza drug Avigan. (Photo courtesy of Fujifilm/Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Fujifilm Holdings Corp. said Friday it is on course to supply the anti-influenza drug Avigan for 2 million COVID-19 patients by next March, meeting a target set by the Japanese government to ramp up production of the potential treatment for the new coronavirus.

"We plan to complete delivery of the drug for 2 million people within fiscal 2020 to the government," said Fujifilm Senior Vice President Junji Okada in an online press conference on its earnings for the year ended March.

"The drug has received much interest from foreign countries," Okada said of Avigan, also known as favipiravir, that has been developed by its unit Fujifilm Toyama Chemical Co.

The government has earmarked about 13.9 billion yen ($129 million) in an extra budget for fiscal 2020 to triple the national stockpile of Avigan, enough to treat 2 million people infected with the coronavirus.

Due to the government's request, Fujifilm has been boosting production of the drug since April.

It aims to produce enough to treat up to 100,000 patients a month in July, a 2.5-fold increase from its output level at the beginning of March, before increasing the volume to 300,000 two months later.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said he is hoping for approval of the drug as treatment against COVID-19 in May even as no clinical tests have proven its efficacy and safety for patients of the respiratory disease caused by the virus.

Medical experts have aired doubts about Abe's apparent rush over approval of the drug, which is feared to cause birth defects. It cannot be administered to expectant mothers or those who may become pregnant.

Okada said the company will apply Avigan to be approved as COVID-19 treatment if clinical tests of the drug currently under way in Japan and the United States demonstrate its efficacy and safety.

"We cannot say at this stage when we will make the application," Okada said. The tests in Japan are expected to finish in June.

Aside from its own clinical tests, Fujifilm may also file for approval based on clinical studies conducted by other parties if they show Avigan's efficacy against COVID-19.

But a Kyodo News report, citing sources close to the matter, said earlier this week that Avigan has so far not shown clear efficacy in treating COVID-19.

The news, based on interim results that were reported to the health ministry by the Fujita Health University, sent shares of Fujifilm down 2.63 percent on Wednesday.

The university, which is leading the clinical tests in collaboration with over 40 medical institutions in Japan, said Wednesday it hopes to release the final results of the clinical tests "as early as possible."

Fujifilm, which did not release an earnings forecast for the current fiscal year through next March due to difficulties in assessing the fallout of the pandemic on its sales, said it is also hard to determine to what extent Avigan's production will contribute to its earnings.

"It depends on whether the pandemic will be contained soon or whether there will be a second or even a third wave of infections," Okada said.

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