Japan ready to offer flu drug for Ebola treatment

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Japan ready to offer flu drug for Ebola treatment
Two Liberians greet each other with their elbows instead of shaking hands in a bar of Monrovia on September 2, 2014. International medical agency Medecins sans Frontieres said on September 2 the world was 'losing the battle' to contain Ebola as the United Nations warned of severe food shortages in the hardest-hit countries. The Ebola virus, transmitted through contact with infected bodily fluids, has killed more than 1,500 people in four countries since the start of the year -- almost 700 of them in Liberia. AFP PHOTO / DOMINIQUE FAGET (Photo credit should read DOMINIQUE FAGET/AFP/Getty Images)
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BY MARI YAMAGUCHI

TOKYO (AP) -- Japan said Monday it is ready to provide a Japanese-developed anti-influenza drug as potential treatment to fight the rapidly expanding Ebola outbreak.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters that Japan can offer the anti-influenza tablet favipiravir, developed by a subsidiary of Fujifilm Holdings Corp., any time at the request of the World Health Organization.

Suga said Japan is watching for WHO's decision on further details over the use of untested drugs. In case of an emergency, Japan may respond to individual requests even before further any decision by the WHO, he said.

The WHO said earlier this month that it is ethical to use untested drugs on Ebola patients given the magnitude of the outbreak.

The drug, developed by a Fujifilm subsidiary Toyama Chemical Co. to treat novel and re-emerging influenza viruses, was approved by the Japanese health ministry in March. 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.

The company has favipiravir stock for more than 20,000 patients, Aoki said.

He said Ebola and influenza viruses are the same type and theoretically similar effects can be expected on Ebola.

Several drugs are being developed for Ebola treatment. But they are still in early stages and there is no proven treatment or vaccine for the highly fatal disease, and Fujifilm's drug is one of only a few new drugs that may work on Ebola.

Favipiravir inhibits viral gene replication within infected cells to prevent propagation, while conventional ones are designed to inhibit the release of new viral particles to prevent the spread of infection, the company said.

Recently, two American doctors recovered from their bouts of Ebola after being treated with experimental drug ZMapp, though it was unclear whether they were cured by the drug.

ZMapp, developed by Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc., had never been tested on humans, although an early version worked in some Ebola-infected monkeys. It's aimed at boosting the immune system's efforts to fight off Ebola.

Ebola has killed more than 1,400 people in West Africa in the latest outbreak.

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