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Editorial: Promote introduction of coronavirus therapy while considering side effects

  • May 13, 2020
  • , The Japan News , 12:02 p.m.
  • English Press

One of the biggest concerns about the new coronavirus was the lack of any therapeutic medicine. It is necessary to speed up pharmaceutical development and increase the options available to doctors.


The government has approved the antiviral drug remdesivir under exceptional measures as the first new coronavirus treatment in Japan. This can be said to be a step forward, considering that there is no effective treatment.


Remdesivir was originally developed as a drug for the Ebola hemorrhagic fever. Clinical trials in the United States have shown it to be effective to a certain extent against the new coronavirus. It is reasonable that the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry used a system to simplify the screening process in Japan and quickly approved it.


Remdesivir is designed for people in serious condition who need to be on a ventilator. However, there are side effects, such as decreased kidney and liver functions. Doctors must carefully proceed when administering this drug.


Avigan is a drug that covers a wide range of patients. It is being stockpiled as a countermeasure against new strains of influenza. In China, there were reports that Avigan led to the early recovery of patients with the disease caused by the virus, and clinical research is progressing in Japan as well. The Japanese government aims to approve the drug by the end of May as a therapeutic medication for the new coronavirus.


The reported side effects of Avigan include fetal malformation. Careful consideration should be given when the drug is administered to pregnant women.


In addition, clinical studies have begun to repurpose several kinds of medications, including antiparasitic and AIDS drugs, into treatments for the new coronavirus. These existing drugs have the advantage of being put into practical use quickly.


On the other hand, as the drugs were developed for other diseases, the effect on the new coronavirus remains unclear. Ultimately, it is desirable that a specific medicine that targets the new coronavirus will be developed.


Each country should share the results of clinical trials and information on side effects for drugs being developed as well as for repurposed drugs in order to swiftly establish an effective treatment.


To contain the coronavirus, it is necessary to develop a vaccine to prevent infection in addition to a therapeutic drug. It is expected to take 1-1½ years or more to develop a vaccine, but it is hoped that a vaccine will be developed sooner and will be put into practical use at an early stage.


To this end, it is important for pharmaceutical companies, biotech ventures and the government to cooperate in the development of a vaccine.


In a global epidemic, countries could compete for a limited supply of drugs and vaccines. It is important to strengthen basic research on viruses and vaccines and the system of pharmaceutical production in normal periods, and establish a domestic system to deal with the emergence of new viruses.


A long-term perspective in preparing for a pandemic like the one now is essential.


— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on May 13, 2020.

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