Japan will provide anti-flu drug Avigan free of charge to 43 countries for clinical studies on its efficacy as a coronavirus treatment, Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said Friday.
The drug is expected to be sent after the Golden Week holidays through May 6, Motegi said, a delay to his earlier projection that shipments could begin this week.
Some 80 countries have shown interest in Avigan, with Motegi previously saying arrangements have been made to send it to 38. Bangladesh, the Dominican Republic, Laos, Qatar and Uzbekistan have since been added to the list of recipients, according to the Foreign Ministry.
Japan is paying for the initiative through a $1 million grant to the United Nations Office for Project Services, which will buy and distribute the drug.
Each country will receive enough to treat between 20 and 100 people for research purposes, Motegi said.
"We will cooperate with the private sector as well as the international community to develop a treatment" for coronavirus, he told a press conference.
Japan has been conducting clinical studies into Avigan after Chinese scientists suggested it had been effective in treating COVID-19 patients, especially those with mild symptoms.
The drug, also known as favipiravir, was developed by a subsidiary of Fujifilm Holdings Corp.
Japan plans to triple its stockpile of Avigan, enough to treat 2 million people, while China has said it will officially adopt it as part of its treatment guidelines for coronavirus.
As the drug is feared to cause birth defects, it cannot be used on pregnant women.