Local pharmaceuticals have started commercial production of an anti-flu and viral infection medication found effective in treating novel coronavirus patients by Combined Military Hospital (CMH) and Bangladesh Air Force (BAF).

Favipiravir was originally developed to treat influenza by Toyama Chemical, which was owned by Fujifilm, the Japanese photography company that now has sizable holdings in biomedicine.

The drug was marketed under the name Avigan, and in 2014, was approved in Japan for human use, according to an article in Time magazine.

Eskayef Pharmaceuticals, Beacon, Square, Beximco, Incepta, General, ACI, Opsonin, Acme, JMI, Orion Health, Veritas, Popular, Radiant and Renata have got the approval for the drug’s commercial production from the Directorate General of Drug Administration (DGDA).

The DGDA received 4,000 tablets free of cost from Beacon Pharmaceuticals for trials on coronavirus patients in early April.

“We used Favipira to treat severe Covid-19 patients at Combined Military Hospital and got a positive result and we have not got side effects,” said Azizul Islam, consultant physician general at the Bangladesh Armed Forces.

There is no specific prescribed medicine in the world for treating COVID-19, he told a seminar on “Management of COVID patients of Bangladesh” organised by Beacon Pharmaceuticals at The Westin Dhaka on Thursday.

However, Favipira, the first generic Favipiravir brand manufactured by Beacon Pharmaceuticals, was found to be effective against COVID-19.

The CMH provided treatment to some 1,821 patients, of whom some 713 has recovered, he said. The death rate in Bangladesh is only 1.42 per cent while it is 5.82 per cent in the US, 2.86 per cent in India, 5.58 per cent in China and 14.29 per cent in Italy, Islam said.

Moreover, the condition of only 2.64 per cent of patients here turned critical, he said.

“We used the Favipira for only moderate to severe patients. Among them who had no chronic and other diseases like diabetics, cancer, liver problem recovered within seven days. In my study, I found that Favipira shows efficacy in 91.6 per cent of patients,” Islam said.

BAF physicians applied Favipira at their temporary hospital at BAF Shaheen College Kurmitola for 29 critical patients and of them, 28 recovered, said Md Abdur Nur.

“The good news for us is that the necessary drugs for COVID-19 patients’ treatment are available in Bangladesh at this moment,” he said.

Beacon Pharmaceuticals started commercial production from the first week of April, Monjurul Alam, global business director, told The Daily Star.

Bangladesh Medicine Society along with CRO IDESHI is conducting a clinical trial on patients, the trial protocol of which is approved by Bangladesh Medical Research Council and the DGDA, he said.

The company has already received orders from different countries, including those in Latin America and East Europe. “We have adequate capacity to meet the country’s own demand and can also export to all over the world,” he added.

However, the medicine is now available in all of their 23 depots throughout Bangladesh.

About the price, Alam said each 200mg tablet would cost Tk 400 and one patient needed roughly 60 to 70 tablets.

The company will not supply Favipiravir to pharmacies as the general public will needlessly stockpile it, he said.

Renata will go for commercial production within a couple of weeks as demand has been created due to the rise of patient numbers, said Monowarul Islam, general manager.

“We are already prepared to go into production to help the government make the drug available for coronavirus patients,” he said.