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Japan approval for remdesivir expected 'soon,' Abe says

Antiviral drug will receive fast-track status if certified by another nation

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks in the Diet parliamentary building in Tokyo on April 27. (Photo by Uichiro Kasai)

TOKYO -- Japan is on the verge of initiating a fast-track approval process for Gilead Sciences' antiviral drug remdesivir to treat patients infected by the novel coronavirus, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Monday.

Japan's health ministry will place remdesivir on a shortened authorization track once another nation certifies the drug to treat COVID-19. Results from international clinical trials are expected shortly.

Abe told legislators in parliament he expected the drug to qualify for approval "soon." That would make remdesivir the first treatment approved in Japan for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.

Remdesivir was developed by U.S. drugmaker Gilead as a candidate to treat Ebola. The drug reportedly carries the risk of side effects, such as impaired kidney function.

Approval by the health ministry is required for making the treatment available under Japan's national health insurance program.

The prime minister also touted efforts to approve Avigan, an influenza drug developed by Japan's Fujifilm Holdings, as another treatment option for the coronavirus.

"We are doing all we can to expand use on patients who so choose and enable early approval," Abe said.

Avigan "has already been administered in over 2,000 cases, and we have received reports of its effectiveness in relieving symptoms," he added.

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