Scientists Study Potential Of Favipiravir To Treat SARS-CoV-2

The White House National Security Council is looking at urgently introducing the popular anti-flu drug Avigan in the U.S. to potentially treat coronavirus effectively. The U.S. government is pushing the FDA to authorize the drug for emergency usage. U.S. scientists remain skeptical of Avigan because Chinese studies are not convincing enough and the drug is accompanied by certain side-effects

To get a clearer picture, Fujifilm, the FDA and HHS are internally deliberating on the prospect of holding clinical trials based in America. The Japanese drug-maker might require funding from the U.S. government to further their research for the American people. They will be following in the footsteps of the Chinese government which believes this medication can alleviate COVID-19.  

At a news conference on March 16 in Beijing, director of the National Center for Biotechnology Development Zhang Xinmin announced that Avigan was proven effective in two clinical trials. One trial was based in Wuhan, and another was based in Shenzhen.  The second study tested the efficacy of the drug called favipiravir (Avigan is the brand name) by comparing it to HIV medication, namely a combination of lopinavir and ritonavir. 

What The Study Said

Researchers at the National Clinical Research Center for Infectious Diseases at The Third People’s Hospital in Shenzhen conducted the study. They roped in 35 patients diagnosed with COVID-19 in early February. A control group with 45 patients diagnosed in late January were included in this non-randomized clinical trial.

On the first day, the group of 35 were given 1,600 milligrams of favipiravir split into two doses. They were also asked to inhale interferon. From the second day onwards, they took 600 mg of favipiravir twice a day along with inhaling interferon. 

Medication Is Avigan safe to treat COVID-19? Photo courtesy of Pexels, Public Domain

The second group, also the control group, was put on a dosage of 400 mg of lopinavir and ritonavir for two weeks. Later, they took 100 mg twice a day, including inhaling interferon. What was the result? The group that took favipiravir did not show signs of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in their system after four days on average, with improved cardiovascular functioning in 91.43 percent of the participants.

The control group recovered in 11 days after SARS-CoV-2 infection ceased, with improved chest imaging in 62.22 percent of the participants. Researchers also said that the favipiravir group experienced fewer adverse events than the control group. “In this open-label non-randomized control study, [favipiravir] showed significantly better treatment effects on COVID-19 in terms of disease progression and viral clearance,” they concluded.

Issues In The Study

As the study was not a randomized control trial, the results could be biased and skewed. Characteristics of the first group were all too common: young, lean, few reported fever and were treated faster after symptoms appeared. 

While the scientists mentioned these factors, there is still room for error, especially as the age ranges of the two groups were vastly different. Participants were also told about the medication they were being given. Thus the study was not the result of a blind outcome assessment in which the patients are unaware of the drugs or placebo administered.  

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