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Fujifilm's Avigan shows no significant benefit on COVID-19 mortality - study

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FILE PHOTO: Tablets of Avigan are displayed during a photo opportunity at Fujifilm's headquarters in Tokyo
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TOKYO (Reuters) - A study of global trials of Fujifilm Holdings Corp's antiviral drug Avigan suggests it has little benefit for COVID-19 patients once their symptoms become serious.

The meta-analysis of nine clinical trials showed the drug, known generically as favipiravir, helped patients early on in their hospitalisation, according to the preprint of a study posted Wednesday on the medical website medRxiv.

But it failed to demonstrate statistically significant results in reducing mortality among those with mild to moderate COVID-19.

"We should consider that perhaps the use of antivirals once the patient has symptoms is too late and this would explain their low efficacy in the clinical setting," wrote the authors, led by Soheil Hassanipoura of Iran's Guilan University of Medical Sciences.

The study, the most comprehensive review of the drug so far, is the latest blow for the treatment that was once touted by former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as a promising treatment for COVID-19.

His government called on Fujifilm to triple national stockpiles of the drug and Japan promised to give it away to needy countries.

The drug has been approved for use with COVID-19 in China and Russia, but it remains under domestic regulatory review. In December, a Japanese medical review board concluded that clinical trial data on Avigan were inconclusive.

In January, Indian drugmaker Dr.Reddy's Laboratories, which bought the global rights to Avigan from Fujifilm last summer, halted a clinical trial of the drug in Kuwait.

Avigan was approved as an emergency flu treatment in Japan in 2014. The drug has been studied as a remedy for numerous virus, but concerns remain about the drug as animal studies indicate it could lead to birth defects.

(Reporting by Rocky Swift; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)