A drug in Japan used to treat new strains of influenza appeared to be effective in the treatment of patients suffering from the novel coronavirus, according to medical authorities in China.
An official at China's science and technology ministry, Zhang Xinmin said the drug - known as “favipiravir” - produced satisfactory outcomes in 340 clinical trials in the city of Wuhan - the epicenter of the virus – and Shenzhen.
“It has a high degree of safety and is clearly effective in treatment,” he said.
Patients who initially tested positive for the pneumonia-like virus, tested negative after a median of four days, after the medication was given to them.
Whereas patients who were not treated with the drug tested negative after a median of 11 days.
X-rays also showed improvements in the lung condition of coronavirus patients. Those who were treated with the drug showed a 91% improvement, compared to 62% of those without the drug.
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Doctors in Japan are hopeful that the medicine will prevent the virus from multiplying in patients. They are using the same drug in studies on patients displaying mild to moderate symptoms.
A source from the Japanese health ministry suggested the drug was not as effective in people displaying severe symptoms.
“We've given Avigan to 70 to 80 people, but it doesn't seem to work that well when the virus has already multiplied,” the source said.
In 2016, favipiravir was an emergency drug supplied by the Japanese government to counter the Ebola virus outbreak.
Favipiravir was initially used to test the flu and will need government approval to be used for the treatment of the coronavirus.
The drug may be approved by May, said a health official. “But if the results of clinical research are delayed, approval could also be delayed.”