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Exclusive: Merck, AstraZeneca to start COVID-19 drug trials in Japan

  • March 12, 2021
  • , Jiji Press , 5:37 p.m.
  • English Press

Tokyo, March 12 (Jiji Press)–Major U.S. drugmaker Merck & Co. and British peer AstraZeneca PLC are planning to launch in Japan this month clinical trials for remedies for the COVID-19 disease blamed on the novel coronavirus, Jiji Press learned Friday.

Expectations are high that the drugs can be effective for treating COVID-19 patients, as a drug previously approved by the Japanese government is believed to have only limited effects.

Merck is slated to conduct a clinical trial for antiviral drug molnupiravir, developed with U.S. biopharmaceutical company Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, sources familiar with the matter said.

The preliminary report on a U.S.-based trial showed that those who received the oral drug were less likely to test positive for the novel coronavirus than those given a placebo.

AstraZeneca will carry out a trial for its AZD7442 antibody therapy, developed using antibodies collected from novel coronavirus patients who have recovered, the sources said.

The antibody therapy, currently undergoing a clinical trial in the United States, is seen helping with infection prevention, in addition to treating COVID-19.

Meanwhile, an international project involving Japan’s Takeda Pharmaceutical Co. <4502> as one of its members is already underway to test a remedy using blood plasma from patients who recovered from COVID-19. A clinical trial from the project began in Japan last December.

In May last year, the Japanese health ministry gave fast-track approval to remdesivir, an antiviral drug developed by U.S. firm Gilead Sciences Inc., as a COVID-19 treatment.

The World Health Organization later warned against its use, however, on the grounds that the drug’s effectiveness in improving patients’ mortality rates had not been substantiated.

The health ministry is still deliberating whether to approve the use of Avigan, an influenza drug from Japan’s Fujifilm Toyama Chemical Co., as a COVID-19 remedy.

Inoculations against the novel coronavirus have already started in Japan using a vaccine developed by U.S. drug giant Pfizer Inc.

AstraZeneca and U.S. biotech startup Moderna Inc. have filed for Japanese regulatory approval for their vaccines. Japanese vaccine developers are playing catch-up, with clinical trials underway.

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