Russia has said an antiviral drug it’s funding has shown promising results in early clinical trials and has called for a global, collaborative approach to finding an effective treatment for the coronavirus.
Russia’s sovereign wealth fund (RDIF) has been funding Russian development and production of the drug favipiravir, an anti-influenza drug first developed in Japan under the name Avigan, in a 50-50 joint venture with Russian pharmaceutical firm ChemRar. RDIF has provided $2 million in funding for the project.
Kirill Dmitriev, the CEO of RDIF, told CNBC Thursday that early clinical trials of the drug on 330 coronavirus patients were promising. “From what we’ve seen so far, we believe this drug is the most promising candidate to really play a big role in (treating the coronavirus),” he said.
According to the data received from the trial, 60% of the 40 patients who took favipiravir have tested negative for coronavirus after five days of treatment, which is two times higher than in the standard therapy group, RDIF and ChemRar said in a statement Wednesday.
The data is consistent with the results of studies conducted in China, which also showed a reduction in the disease duration from 11 days to 4-5 days, they said.
“We believe this is an international effort and that is why we’re sharing our results a bit earlier because the final clinical trials will be completed in the next two weeks but we definitely see that the drug is efficient,” Dmitriev told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Europe.”
Medical arms race?
The rush for an effective coronavirus treatment, as well as a vaccine, comes as the pandemic continues to sweep around the world. Although infections have declined in Asia, Europe and the U.S.
Russia now has the second-highest number of confirmed cases in the world, after the U.S., with 252,245 cases, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The death toll remains low, however, with 2,305 deaths reported. Russia has started to ease restrictions on public life that were imposed six weeks ago although Moscow and St. Petersburg, Russia’s largest cities, have extended their lockdowns until May 31.
While research around the world is being conducted into a coronavirus vaccine, it could take 18 months before one is available. In the meantime, pharmaceutical companies are researching treatments.
Gilead Science’s antiviral drug remdesivir, for example, is seen as a potential candidate to treat the virus. A U.S. government-run clinical trial found Covid-19 patients who took remdesivir usually recovered after 11 days, four days faster than those who didn’t take the drug.
RDIF’s Dmitriev said Gilead’s drug looked like a “strong” candidate too that had shown “promising” results. “We are not in the business of competing with other providers, I think the crisis is so significant that everyone needs to contribute and Gilead has been offering different countries very good terms of working with the Gilead drug.”
He said the advantage of favipiravir was that it could be taken in tablet form, under medical supervision, whereas remdesivir needs to be injected.
Dmitriev said that the race to find an effective coronavirus treatment was a collaborative one internationally, that could help ease sometimes tense relations between Russia and the rest of the world, although he said “some countries see it more as an arms race.”
“We believe it is very important to cooperate and share information … We believe it’s really time to cooperate and hopefully this is a time to improve relations between many nations, we’re hopeful of improving relations between Russia and the U.S. so we hope it’s a partnership race, not an arms race,” he said.
Dmitriev said he expected regulatory approval for favipiravir to come sometime in May. RDIF and ChemRar have said they could produce 600,000 courses of the medicine per year.
There are some benefits to using a drug that has been known to the market since 2014 as its side effects have been studied in detail, RDIF and ChemRar said. Clinical trials show “satisfactory levels of efficacy and tolerability” although the drug is prohibited for pregnant women after its use in Japan showed it could cause birth defects, Reuters reported.