Japan said Monday it is ready to provide a Japanese-developed anti-influenza drug as a possible treatment for the rapidly expanding Ebola outbreak.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters that Japan can offer favipiravir, developed by a subsidiary of Fujifilm Holdings Corp., at any time at the request of the World Health Organization.
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The drug, with the brand name Avigan, was developed by Fujifilm subsidiary Toyama Chemical Co. to treat new and re-emerging influenza viruses, and has not been proven to be effective against Ebola.
Favipiravir was approved by Japan's health ministry in March for use against influenza. Fujifilm is in talks with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on clinical testing of the drug in treating Ebola, company spokesman Takao Aoki said.
He said Ebola and influenza viruses are the same general type, and a similar response can theoretically be expected from Ebola.
Favipiravir inhibits viral gene replication within infected cells to prevent propagation, while other anti-viral drugs often are designed to inhibit the release of new viral particles to prevent the spread of infection, the company said.
The company has enough stock of favipiravir for more than 20,000 patients, Aoki said.
Suga, the Cabinet spokesman, said Japan is watching for a decision by WHO that would provide more details on the use of untested drugs against Ebola. In case of an emergency, Japan may respond to individual requests before any further decision by WHO, he said.
WHO said earlier this month that it is ethical to use untested drugs on Ebola patients given the magnitude of the outbreak.
Several drugs are being developed for the treatment of Ebola. They are still in the early stages and there is no proven treatment or vaccine for the often fatal disease.
The Canadian government promised a shipment from one experimental vaccine but it remains at a Canadian laboratory, said Patrick Gaebel, spokesman for the Public Health Agency of Canada. Gaebel declined to speculate how many weeks it could be before those are given to volunteers.
"We are now working with the (World Health Organization) to address complex regulatory, logistical and ethical issues so that the vaccine can be safely and ethically deployed as rapidly as possible," Gaebel said.
ZMapp did not help Liberian doctor
Recently, two American doctors recovered from Ebola after being treated with the experimental drug ZMapp, though it was unclear whether they were cured by the drug.
However, a Liberian doctor who was among three Africans to receive ZMapp recently died, the country's information minister said Monday.
'Although we will continue to emphasize prevention, we remain open to all available curative opportunities.' - Liberian Information Minister Lewis Brown
Only six people in the world are known to have received ZMapp. The small supply is now said to be exhausted, and it is expected to be months before more can be produced by its U.S. maker, Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc.
ZMapp had never been tested on humans, although an early version worked in some Ebola-infected monkeys. It is aimed at boosting the immune system's efforts to fight off Ebola.
Asked about the drug being offered from Japan, Liberian Information Minister Lewis Brown said, "Although we will continue to emphasize prevention, we remain open to all available curative opportunities."
Health experts caution that ZMapp had never been tested in humans before and it is unclear whether it works. They note there is a huge gap between the treatment the two Americans got at an Atlanta hospital, where five infectious disease experts and 21 nurses provided rigorous care, and West Africa, where even such basics as sterile fluids can be in short supply.
It also probably helped that the two Americans were considered healthy and well-nourished before they were infected and received prompt care, experts say.
Meanwhile, the family of 29-year-old William Pooley, the first British citizen confirmed to be infected with Ebola, said he is receiving excellent care at an isolation ward in London's Royal Free Hospital after being evacuated from the capital of Sierra Leone.
"We could not ask for him to be in a better place," they said in a statement.
Pooley, a volunteer nurse, was flown back to Britain from Sierra Leone where he was working at an Ebola treatment center.
The World Health Organization is also in the process of trying to evacuate a Senegalese doctor who contracted Ebola while working in Sierra Leone, said WHO Assistant Director General, Dr. Keiji Fukada on Monday.
Ebola has killed more than 1,400 people in West Africa in the latest outbreak.