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Russia will roll out game changer next week after approval of the Japanese Covid-19 drug

MOSCOW (REUTERS) – Russia will begin administering its first approved antiviral drug to treat coronavirus patients next week, state financial support told Reuters, a measure it described as “a game changer” that is returning to a normal economic life should accelerate.

Russian hospitals can start giving the drug to patients from June 11, with enough to treat about 60,000 people per month, the head of the Russian RDIF sovereign wealth fund told Reuters in an interview.

There is currently no approved vaccine for the highly contagious and sometimes fatal disease, and there is no consensus within the global scientific community on the efficacy of medications such as the Russian-modified antiviral.

It is registered under the name Avifavir and is however the first potential coronavirus treatment approved by the Russian Ministry of Health. It appeared on a government list of approved drugs on Saturday (May 30) after clinical trials.

RDIF head Kirill Dmitriev said that clinical studies involved 330 people and that in most cases the drug successfully treated the virus within four days.

Trials would be completed in about a week, he said, with more to be executed. The Department of Health had authorized use of the drug under a special accelerated process, and production had started in March, he added.

“We believe this is a game changer. It will reduce the pressure on the healthcare system, we will put fewer people in a critical condition and for 90 percent of people it will eliminate the virus within 10 days,” he said.

“We believe that the drug is the key to resuming full economic activity in Russia. People need to follow social distance rules, and of course we need a vaccine, but it is a combination of those three levers.”

SOME SIDE EFFECTS

With 405,843 cases, Russia has the third highest number of infections in the world, after Brazil and the United States, although with 4,693 official deaths, it has a much lower death rate, which has been much debated.

Dmitriev said the new drug, which comes in tablet form, would allow people to spend less time in the hospital and reduce the time they are contagious because the drug had few side effects, but was not suitable for pregnant women .

It was particularly effective, he said, for patients with mild or moderate symptoms.

RDIF, which has a 50 percent share in the manufacturer of the drug ChemRar, funded the trials and other work with its partners at a cost of about 300 million rubles (S $ 6 million), Dmitriev said, explaining that the costs for Russia was much lower due to previously developed development work in Japan.

Commonly known as favipiravir, avifavir was first developed in the late 1990s by a Japanese company that was later purchased by Fujifilm for healthcare. The drug works by short-circuiting the reproductive mechanism of certain RNA viruses such as influenza.

Russian specialists have adapted the generic drug to increase its effectiveness for treating Covid-19, the respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus, said Dmitriev, who said Moscow would be willing to provide details of those changes within two weeks with to share others.

“The drug showed very good results in randomized clinical trials. After four days, 65 percent of patients did not have the virus,” he said.

Japan has tried the same drug known there as Avigan. It has received critical acclaim from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and US $ 128 million (S $ 180 million) in government funding, but has yet to be approved for use.

When Russia’s own medical needs were met, Dmitriev said it would like to export Avifavir. Countries in the Middle East and Latin America had expressed an interest in acquiring it, he said.

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