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Headline on discovery of COVID-19 drug false

A website has falsely claimed in its headline that Japan has "finally" produced a drug that treats COVID-19.

The website Netizen Express also highlighted only the portion of a March 18 Nikkei Asian Review report, the source of its article, in which a China health official described Avigan, a flu drug developed years ago by a subsidiary of Fujifilm, as “clearly effective” in treating COVID-19 patients.

It omitted to say Nikkei also reported that Japan has reservations about the drug and South Korea has decided against using the drug because of doubts over its efficacy and potential side effects.

The erroneous headline of Netizen Express’ March 18 article reads:

Finally! Japan Nakagawa ng Mabisang Gamot Laban sa Coronavirus (Finally! Japan has developed an effective drug against coronavirus)!

Avigan (generic name: favipiravir) is not a new flu drug as Netizen Express’s headline makes it appear. It obtained regulatory approval in Japan in 2014 and could not have been developed for the new coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), which emerged in late 2019.

The flu drug recently gained prominence after a Chinese science and technology official, Health Zhang Xinmin, told reporters March 17 it “has a high degree of safety and is clearly effective in treatment.”

Zhang said results of clinical trials conducted on 200 patients at hospitals in Wuhan, the epicenter of the new coronavirus, and Shenzhen showed that patients who received Avigan tested negative in a comparatively short time—a median of four days—and pneumonia symptoms were markedly reduced. He said there were no clear side effects.

Fujifilm Holding Corp.’s shares surged 15 percent the day after Zhang’s comments.

Netizen Express also failed to state in its story the condition Japanese regulators set when it approved Avigan in 2014: “(I)t would only be used if the government decided to fight new or re-emerging influenza viruses.”

Avigan has been found to have side effects on fetuses and cannot be taken by pregnant women.

The Japanese newspaper Mainichi on March 17 reported that clinical research using Avigan on novel coronavirus disease patients with mild to moderate symptoms began in March. It quoted an individual related to Japan's Ministry of Health Labor and Welfare as saying:

We've given Avigan to 70 to 80 people, but it doesn't seem to work that well when the virus has already multiplied.

Mainichi also said results of the clinical research on Avigan and other antiviral drugs for the coronavirus are expected to be out in April at the earliest.

Japan has a stockpile of about 2 million Avigan pills, according to Mainichi.

Nikkei also reported South Korea’s recent decision not to import Avigan to treat patients who tested positive for COVID-19, a detail missing from Netizen Express’ article.

The news agency Yonhap reported March 16 that South Korea ruled out the use of Avigan as treatment of the novel coronavirus “due to doubts over its efficacy and potential side effects.” It said:

The Ministry of Food and Drug Safety said it has decided not to import Avigan after a team of infectious disease experts here ruled there is not enough clinical data to prove the drug's efficacy.

The report quoted a South Korean infectious disease expert who said:

Avigan has not only not shown efficacy during test studies but also there is not data on clinical trials conducted on patients...The drug has also shown serious side effects, such as fetal deaths in animal studies.

A patent license agreement signed by Fujifilm and China's Zhejiang Hisun Pharmaceutical in 2016 for Avigan was canceled last year, but the two firm remain in a "cooperative relationship," Fujifilm’s spokesperson said.

The World Health Organization says there is no specific medicine recommended to date to prevent or treat the new coronavirus. It said:

Some specific treatments are under investigation, and will be tested through clinical trials. WHO is helping to accelerate research and development efforts with a range or partners.

A Department of Health fact check says paracetamol is “still a good first choice” to treat fever and other symptoms of COVID-19. It said it was awaiting WHO’s advice on the use of ibuprofen to treat the symptoms.

China has recorded 81,116 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 3,231 deaths; South Korea, 8,320 cases and 81 deaths; and Japan, 829 cases and 28 deaths, according to WHO’s March 18 situation report on the pandemic.

Netizen Express’ article was posted 204 times on Facebook, generating 790,215 interactions,, including 153,037 share.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.) How to protect yourself. Retrieved from

Development of coronavirus treatment advancing in Japan with existing meds. (2020, March 17). Retrieved from

Finally! Japan nakagawa ng mabisang gamot laban sa coronavirus! (2020, March 18). Retrieved from

McCurry, J. (2020, March 18). Japanese flu drug 'clearly effective' in treating coronavirus, says China. The Guardian. Retrieved from

Reuters. (2020, March 17). Fujifilm shares jump 15% on China coronavirus drug trial boost. Retrieved from

S. Korea not to use Japan's Avigan as coronavirus drug. (2020, March 16). Retrieved from

Watanabe, S. et al. (2020, March 18). China says Japan-developed drug Avigan works against coronavirus. Nikkei Asian Review. Retrieved from

World Health Organization. (2020, March 18). Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) Situation Report – 58. Retrieved from

World Health Organization. (n.d.) Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) advice for the public: Myth busters. Retrieved from


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