We have no better option - Cuomo must turn to Japan for help
While other cities in the United States can legitimately claim a special relationship to a certain part of the world (Miami to the Caribbean / South America, for example), New York, home to the United Nations and the financial industry, is America's most international city. In the aftermath of 9/11, the support New York received from the rest of the U.S. was palpable, and we were moved. While the path the coronavirus took to get here is less clear than the flight paths of the two jets that brought down the World Trade Center, our status as an international city likely contributed to COVID-19 having arrived here first.
Help doesn't always come in the form we want, or from the source we expect it to. Over the last month we've asked our Federal Government for more test kits, expanded protocols, ventilators, medical staff, and PPE. They're arriving, but not fast enough. Experimental drugs have come too, but the curative value of the medicines that have been supplied remains dubious.
Simultaneously - things happen that way in a crisis - a treatment has emerged abroad as more successful than the others: favipiravir (T-705, trade name Avigan®). I wrote about it over a week ago in "Japanese Covid-19 Drug Ignored by a Supposedly Desperate United States." Now NHK World writes: "Japan to give virus-hit nations Avigan for free."
Favipiravir is a pill, unlike similar drugs that are only available as injections or i.v. drips. New York can start persons over 50 who are not pregnant women (most persons over 50 aren't) on favipiravir upon testing positive for COVID-19. If it works, we can dramatically reduce the pressure on our hospital ICUs & ventilators, reducing deaths. That potential benefit is too great to ignore.
It has been known since February that favipiravir is one of the most promising and most scalable candidate medications against COVID-19. During that time the FDA could have initiated urgent U.S. trials. There have already been U.S. favipiravir studies relative to influenza, sponsored by the Pentagon.
The moment has come for the State of New York in the persons of Mario Cuomo and health commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker to reach out to Japan directly, both to its government and to the Fujifilm Corporation, and say YES. YES, we need it. YES, we need it now. YES, we will endeavor to study outcomes for the benefit of all humanity while we implement programs to save lives. YES, when we are on the backside of this, we will assist logistically and financially in further scaling favipiravir for use around the world, if it remains a preferred treatment. YES, we have at least one pharmaceutical company in New York, and others across the United States, which have made favipiravir before and could be licensed to do so again by Fujifilm.
Since this story was initially published, Harvard Medical School and Stanford University have announced small scale favipiravir studies. There has been no movement toward this in New York. What could trigger the fast-tracking of favitpiravir studies or an Emergency Use Authorization from FDA, similar to what has been granted for chloriquine and hydroxychloriquine, is a request from New York State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker.
A large study of favipiravir in COVID-19 patients is underway in Japan.