US/World

Japan Faces New Challenge After Successful COVID-19 Fight: Patient Shortage For Clinical Trials

Japan has been one of the countries able to control the spread of COVID-19. But that success surprisingly led to another problem that may affect how the country fights the rapidly growing disease.

Figures from Johns Hopkins University show Japan has more than 17,900 confirmed cases of COVID-19. But the country has a very high recovery rate, with over 16,260 patients now successfully treated. 

However, the high number of recoveries led to a shortage of patients to enroll in clinical trials. The Japanese government hopes to start its first human tests in July but officials said there may be delays because researchers struggle to recruit patients with coronavirus. 

Clinical trials will focus on Fujifilm Holdings Corp’s Avigan to help manage coronavirus infections. Russia and India have already approved the drug as a COVID-19 therapy, Reuters reported Wednesday.

Avigan received attention from the medical community in March after a Chinese official announced it could help patients recover from COVID-19. There are now 25 studies worldwide focused on confirming that effect of the drug. 

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also supported the use of Avigan to help manage the disease. However, because of the declining number of COVID-19 patients, the country may fall behind other nations with testing Fujifilm’s drug. 

"Due to the decreasing number of coronavirus infections, we believe it will take some time before clinical research is completed," Tetsuya Nakamura, a member of a team testing Avigan at Gunma University Hospital in central Japan, said as quoted by Reuters. "It's a pity that Avigan has been approved overseas but not in Japan."

There are 54 other clinical trials for potential COVID-19 treatments or vaccines in Japan. However, most are still in the process of recruiting patients.

Japan-based Healios KK is one of the teams facing challenges in trials because of the low number of infected people in the country. The biotech company planned to gather COVID-19 patients in April for its experimental lung therapy trial. 

"We were careful to size the cohort in light of the low number of patients in Japan, and so are only seeking to enroll around five patients," Chief Financial Officer Richard Kincaid said.

With the shortage of patients for the trials, Japan is likely to rely on overseas data and results to guide its efforts to test or develop treatments for COVID-19. 

Japan and COVID-19 Figures from Johns Hopkins University show Japan has more than 17,900 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of June 25, 2020, and over 16,260 recovered patients. pxhere.com

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