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China approves antiviral favilavir to treat coronavirus

Drug developed to treat inflammation in nose and throat shown to be effective in clinical trial of 70 patients with the virus.

Chinese people wear protective face masks outside the Beijing Center for Disease Prevention and Control as the coronavirus remains a threat to Beijing on Thursday, February 13, 2020. Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI
Chinese people wear protective face masks outside the Beijing Center for Disease Prevention and Control as the coronavirus remains a threat to Beijing on Thursday, February 13, 2020. Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI | License Photo

Feb. 17 (UPI) -- Regulatory officials in China announced Monday that they have approved the antiviral favilavir for use in the treatment of the novel coronavirus COVID-19.

The approval by the National Medical Products Administration was based on the drug's efficacy against the virus in clinical trials started in response to the ongoing outbreak, which has sickened more than 70,000 people globally. The vast majority of the cases have been identified in Hubei province, China.

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Specific results of the clinical trial involving favilavir, formerly known as fapilavir, have not been released. The drug was tested in 70 patients with confirmed COVID-19 infection in the city of Shenzhen.

The drug, developed in China by Zhejiang Hisun Pharmaceutical Company originally to treat catarrhal, or inflammation of the nose and throat, is one of three currently being investigated for possible use in the treatment of COVID-19.

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The company has begun producing the drug in large quantities to meet the demand created by the outbreak, though it is not the only one being investigated for use against COVID-19.

Another drug option, remdesivir, is being developed by U.S. drugmaker Gilead. Originally intended to treat Ebola virus, remdesivir has reportedly been used to treat one American sickened with COVID-19, and the patient in question has recovered fully.

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However, the drug is still undergoing clinical trials and has not yet been approved to treat either COVID-19 or Ebola.

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Meanwhile, doctors in South Korea have reported that they have used the HIV combination drug lopinavir plus ritonavir -- marketed as Kaletra -- to successfully treat COVID-19 in a 54-year-old patient.

Researchers in China have also asked patients who have fully recovered from COVID-19 to donate their blood plasma for possible use as the basis of a new treatment for the virus. Mike Ryan, executive director of the World Health Organization's Emergencies Program, said Monday the approach, known as hyperimmune globulin therapy, has been used for decades to in the treatment of viral diseases, including diphtheria.

The theory is that those who have recovered from viral infections have antibodies against the disease in their blood, and that those antibodies can be passed on to others who have been infected via transfusion, providing their immune system with a needed "boost," he explained. However, the key to its effectiveness is timing -- transfusions need to be performed early enough in the course of the disease for the antibodies to work.

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Chinese researchers started clinical trials of the approach in COVID-19 patients last week."It's an important area to pursue, but it's not always successful," Ryan added.

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