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Coronavirus

Japan promises free Avigan to Iran and 40 countries

Doses will generate clinical data to speed research

Avigan is made by a unit of Japan's Fujifilm Holdings. (Photo by Takaki Kashiwabara)

TOKYO -- Japan will provide flu drug and potential coronavirus treatment Avigan free of charge to Iran, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told Iranian President Hassan Rouhani by phone Tuesday.

Iran had requested the meeting to discuss the countries' response to the new coronavirus. The rare telephone conversation marked Abe and Rouhani's first time speaking since their December summit here.

The Japanese government will start sending Avigan to more than 40 countries fighting COVID-19, including Indonesia, the Netherlands and Turkey, after the end of its Golden Week holidays this week. The shipments will be made through the United Nations Office for Project Services.

Iran has logged 6,300-plus deaths from the virus, according to Johns Hopkins University's tracker. The Avigan shipments will be considered part of Japan's emergency grant aid to the country.

Abe offered condolences for Iran's loss. He and Rouhani agreed to work closely in response to the virus.

Nearly 80 countries have expressed interest in Avigan, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs here. The ministry had finalized arrangements with 43 countries as of Friday. In exchange for free doses for 20 to 100 patients, recipient countries are asked to provide clinical data to Japan to accelerate research on the drug.

Avigan has not been approved as a coronavirus treatment in Japan, though it is considered a key candidate for treating patients with milder symptoms. Abe is hoping for approval for COVID-19 by mid-May.

"We need a treatment in order to bring the outbreak under control," Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said. "I hope for greater cooperation between the private and public sectors and with the international community on developing a treatment."

Avigan was developed by Fujifilm Holdings unit Fujifilm Toyama Chemical. It was approved for production and distribution as a flu treatment in Japan in 2014.

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