Israel among first to try experimental Japanese coronavirus drug

The drug is to be tested on a total of 80 patients at Hadassah, Sourasky, Poriah Hospital in Tiberias and Soroka Hospital in Beersheba, together with researchers from Hebrew University.

Israel is among the first countries to receive an experimental Japanese drug to treat coronavirus and is testing it at hospitals, the Foreign Ministry said Monday.

Testing in China has found the flu medicine Avigan, produced by Japan’s Fujifilm Holding Corp., is helpful in treating COVID-19 in its early stages, shortening the time the patient is sick and preventing the illness from becoming more severe.

Israel recently received a first shipment of the drug. That followed weeks of work by Ambassador to Japan Yaffa Ben-Ari; Prof. Ran Nir-Paz, an expert on infectious diseases at Hadassah-University Medical Center in Jerusalem; and Dr. Esti Sayag of Sourasky Medical Center’s Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv.

The committee on clinical trials on humans met at Hadassah on Monday to review some promising drugs being tested on coronavirus patients and authorized experimenting with Avigan.

It is to be tested on 80 patients at Hadassah, Sourasky, Baruch Padeh Medical Center in Poriya (near Tiberias) and Soroka-University Medical Center in Beersheba.

Avigan, which was developed for influenza, is meant to shorten the duration of the illness and decrease the likelihood of other patients in the hospital catching coronavirus, Nir-Paz said.

“The medicine is being used in the front lines of care in Japan,” he said. “The goal of Israeli research is to examine if the medicine is effective for this indication.”

Avigan seems the most promising out of the drugs being tested for treating coronavirus patients in early days of the infection and can help flatten the curve of patients and allow hospitals to provide better care to those in worse condition, Sayag said.

Foreign Minister Israel Katz praised the work of the embassy in Tokyo, the Foreign Ministry and Health Ministry for “successfully bringing this groundbreaking research to Israel.”

“In this challenging time, the Foreign Ministry is on the front lines of the battle against coronavirus and is leading, together with other ministries, Israel’s efforts to find necessary medical supplies and medical solutions to the virus,” he said.

Ben-Ari said she would continue working to get more doses of Avigan to Israel to help prevent infected people’s condition from deteriorating. She thanked Fujifilm for recognizing the high level of medical research conducted in Israel.

Japan plans to stockpile two million doses of Avigan, up from its current level of 700,000, Japanese media reported Sunday. It also plans to prioritize the clinical-trial process of the drug so it can be formally approved to be used in treating coronavirus patients.