Japan Trials Asthma Drug Alvesco to fight COVID-19

Several drugs have recently been repurposed to control the COVID-19 pandemic. Now two more drugs, Alvesco and Avigan, are under clinical trials to see whether they could help patients with mild or moderate symptoms.

The SARS-CoV-2 viral outbreak has resulted in over 600,000 cases and more than 30,000 deaths globally. Several measures such as regulatory approvals of detection assays and the development of vaccines and repurposed drugs are in full swing. Among the handful of drugs that are currently under trials, Gilead Sciences’ remdesivir is a notable candidate. Now, an asthma drug that was recognized by a Korean research group to be effective against COVID-19 is trialed in Japan as a potential treatment. Institut Pasteur Korea (IPK) has confirmed the effectiveness of the corticosteroid Alvesco (ciclesonide) in treating COVID-19 in a drug repositioning study by testing over 3,000 agents with infected cells. The study compiled a list of 20 antiviral drugs that are effective in treating COVID-19 with similar antiviral ability to remdesivir, or the anti-HIV drug Kaletra. The researchers recommended ciclesonide based on their evaluation of the safety, efficacy, feasibility, and cases treated. Still, the confirmation is only at the cell line level and more clinical studies are warranted to evaluate its use.

Meanwhile, Japan’s National Center for Global Health and Medicine (NCGM) has revealed clinical trial data that evaluated Alvesco in treating COVID-19 infected patients without pneumonia symptoms. According to the results released from Kanagawa Prefectural Ashigarakami Hospital, among the three patients treated with Alvesco, one woman was relieved from fever and pneumonia symptoms and discharged virus-free after eight days. The other two patients are free from respirators. Currently, there are 10 more patients receiving the drug. Alvesco was approved in 2005 and is showing an ability to prevent patients from developing pneumonia syndromes and block viral proliferation. The NCGM’s Disease Control and Prevention Center are now preparing a protocol with the hope to perform the examination as soon as possible.

Another drug that drew much attention in Japan was the anti-influenza agent Avigan (favipiravir) developed by Fujifilm. Favipiravir was reported to be effective in COVID-19 patients with mild or moderate symptoms by Chinese medical researchers and was then assigned as a treatment by the Chinese government officially. Although debates exist whether it causes adverse effects in fetuses and should not be given to pregnant women, favipiravir is believed to be potent in patients with mild symptoms. The clinical trial of favipiravir is performed at Fujita Health University Hospital and will involve 80 patients with mild or no symptoms. Fujifilm has also confirmed enough supply of the drug during this urgent period.

 Related article: The Immune System’s Fight against COVID-19

References
  1.     http://fftc.fujifilm.co.jp/med/abigan/index.html
  2.     http://www.ip-korea.org/community/release_view.php?board=press&seq=2821
  3.     https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/news/20200323_30/
  4.     https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.03.20.999730v1

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