Saudi Arabia is seeking a major role in developing a Russian COVID-19 vaccine called Avifavir that reportedly produced promising results on human subjects, Arab News reported Friday. The trial lasted one month and involved 38 subjects. A 100-person phase 2 trial is under way.
Avifavir is a generic version of an anti-flu drug, Avigan (favipiravir), which has been used in Japan since 2014 to treat severe forms of influenza. The Russian government has authorized the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) and ChemRar Group to use Avifavir in treating Covid-19.
The US Department of Defense developed favipiravir in partnership with MediVector, Inc. as a broad-spectrum antiviral and sponsored it through FDA Phase II and Phase III clinical trials, where it demonstrated safety in humans and efficacy against the influenza virus.
According to Pharmaceutical Technology, RDIF and ChemRar have sold 100,000 courses of the drug in 35 regions in Russia and the Republic of Belarus. They have also signed with the Republic of Kazakhstan to deliver Avifavir there in the near future.
RDIF head Kirill Dmitriev reported in his Newsweek column this week that more than 50 countries, including Brazil and Saudi Arabia, wish to procure the Russian-made Avifavir anti-coronavirus drug.
“Avifavir has already been bought not only by Russia’s neighbors Belarus and Kazakhstan but also by Colombia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Peru and many other countries, with more than 50 countries submitting purchase requests,” Dmitriev said, adding that Avifavir production has been increased to 300,000 courses a month, to meet local and international demand.
Dmitriev hailed the projected Saudi-Russian partnership, saying, “We believe that Saudi Arabia is an important partner for Russia and we consider that we have very good cooperation regarding the vaccine.”
Arab News suggested clinical trials of Avifavir could be carried out in the Kingdom, as well as the production of the drug.
The drug was approved in China in 2019 for use in clinical trials of coronavirus disease. In February 2020, favipiravir was being studied in China for experimental treatment of the emergent COVID-19. In March, a Chinese study on 80 people found that favipiravir reduced viral clearance time, and that 91% of people had improved CT scans with few side effects. The problem with this study was that it was not randomized double-blinded and placebo-controlled.
In March 2020, Italy approved the drug for experimental use against COVID-19 and conducted trials in the three regions most affected by the disease. However, the Italian Pharmaceutical Agency warned the public that the existing evidence in support of this drug is scant and preliminary. In April the drug was studied it in three hospitals in Massachusetts, US, and in London, UK.
In Russia, favipiravir was approved for the treatment of COVID-19 in hospital settings on May 29, after an ongoing open-label randomized clinical trial with 60 subjects.