A drug for parasitic infections, developed by a Japanese microbiologist, has been gaining attention as a potential treatment for the new coronavirus.
Ivermectin was developed based on findings of Professor Emeritus Satoshi Omura of the Kitasato University, for which he received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2015. The university recently announced plans to conduct a clinical trial, Nikkei reports.
Australian research has found that the drug could significantly inhibit coronavirus replication, while the University of Utah has reported a great improvement in survival rates among Covid-19 patients treated with ivermectin.
The drug was commercialized by Merck & Co in the 1980s. It is now widely used for killing parasites in animals such as cattle and sheep, and for treating river blindness in humans.
Merck's Japanese branch said it would speak to Kitasato University about the clinical trial. The scale of the study has yet to be set. But Japan imports the materials used to manufacture ivermectin, and if the drug is approved to treat the coronavirus, it may pose a challenge to maintain their supply.
Ivermectin is primarily used in Japan for dermatological diseases such as scabies. This is sold here under the name Stromectol, by an Osaka based company named Maruho.
Maruho reports increased orders and inquiries about the medication but mainly says that it does not currently fulfill orders outside of dermatological uses.
Ivermectin attacks nerve and other cells of parasites. It is not clear why it works against the coronavirus.
"This is still a guess, but it could be blocking a protein the virus needs in order to replicate," Kitasato University professor Hideaki Hanaki said.
"Hundreds of millions of people take ivermectin every year, so it is unlikely to cause frequent, heavy side effects," Hanaki said. He will continue his research into ivermectin's effectiveness against the coronavirus under Omura's guidance.