PH to receive free supply of Japan flu drug for coronavirus cure trial

(UPDATED) The Department of Health (DOH) on Tuesday, May 5, said that the Philippines will receive a free supply of anti-flu drug Avigan from the Japanese government to test if it could treat the coronavirus disease. 

"Ang gamot na ito ay nagpapakita ng pag-asa para sa panlaban sa COVID-19 at tayo ay, agaran na tayo ay magkakaroon ng clinical trials upang masiguro na ang nasabing gamot ay epektibo at ligtas para sa mga Pilipino," DOH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said in a televised press briefing. 

(This drug gives hope for coronavirus cure and we are conducting clinical trials immediately to make sure it is effective and safe for Filipinos.)

Vergeire, however, cautioned against the use of Avigan on pregnant women as studies have shown that it may result in birth defects.

Avigan is the brand name of the drug favipiravir. It was developed by what is now known as Fujifilm Toyama Chemical and approved for use in Japan in 2014. (READ: Avigan: Antiviral being tested for coronavirus patients)

Clinical trials to test the effectiveness and safety of Avigan in coronavirus patients started around April, after earlier positive results from China.

The Philippines was among the 38 nations that will receive Avigan for free. 

The DOH didn't give a specific date when the Philippines will receive the anti-flu drug. However, a report from the Japan Times said that Japan already started giving out the drug to recipient countries last week.

On Tuesday morning, Dr John Wong, an epidemiologist from the Ateneo School of Medicine and Public Health and part of the technical working group of the government on coronavirus, said that the coronavirus curve in the Philippines has started to flatten. (READ: PH sees flattening of coronavirus curve – Ateneo expert)

Wong, however, said that the pandemic will only end when a vaccine is discovered. Vaccines for the coronavirus being developed by other countries will take about 6 to 12 months or even 1 and 1/2 years to be ready for commercial use.

In a televised briefing on Wednesday, May 6, Vergeire said the clinical trial will cover 100 patients. The DOH will come up with a protocol to select the patients who will participate, she added.

The DOH earlier said that the Philippines is part of the solidarity trial of the World Health Organization, which aims to find a cure for the coronavirus disease.

As of Tuesday, the Philippines recorded 9,694 cases of coronavirus infections, with 637 fatalities and 1,408 recoveries. –

Bonz Magsambol

Bonz Magsambol is a multimedia reporter for Rappler, covering health, education, and social welfare. He first joined Rappler as a social media producer in 2016.