Russia’s health ministry recently approved a new anti-viral drug for COVID-19 called Avifavir, which is associated with Favipiravir and developed by Fujifilm Toyama Chemical of Japan. With a trade name of Avigan in Japan, it is also under study in China and the United States as well as other nations to treat symptoms of COVID-19. The Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), the country’s sovereign wealth fund, has played an instrumental role in scrambling to drive drug development deals in response to COVID-19. Presumably capitalizing on the drug’s generic status since 2019, RDIF partnered with Russian pharmaceutical research and development group Chemrar to leverage Favipiravir to develop a Russian generic version known as Avifavir. Now the RDIF is working with Saudi Arabia to launch a clinical trial in that Kingdom.
Developed by Fujifilm Toyama Chemical, Avifavir is based on the Japanese drug Favipiravir (Avigan), which is currently being tested around the world, including in the United States. The drug was actually approved for use against influenza in 2014 and became a generic drug in 2019. Back in 2016, Fujifilm licensed the drug API to Zhejian Hisun Pharmaceutical Co. of China. Sold under the brand name “Avigan,” it is an antiviral medication used to treat influenza in Japan. It is also being studied to treat a number of other viral infections. It is a pyrazinecarboxamide derivative similar to experimental antiviral drug T-1105).
In a recent press release, the RDIF’s chief executive Kirill Dmitriev declared “Avifavir is not only the first antiviral registered against coronavirus in Russia, but it is also perhaps the most promising anti-COVID-19 drug in the world. It was developed and tested in clinical trials in Russia in an unprecedentedly short period of time enabling Avifavir to become the first registered drug based on Favipiravir in the world.”
Previous Russian & Saudi Sovereign Investment Collaborations
The RDIF has apparently worked with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on a number of investment projects. Both nations have immense oil-based wealth, and in a recent virtual press release, RDIF announced that Avifavir is world’s second registered drug addressing symptoms of COVID-19. RDIF also purportedly announced its intent on bringing the drug to Saudi Arabia.
Days earlier, RDIF’s chief executive Kirill Dmitriev conveyed to Arab News: “We are in talks with our Saudi partners about possible supplies of Avifavir to Saudi Arabia. We shared with them the positive results of clinical trials in Russia. Our partners expressed interest in starting a clinical trial of Avifavir in the Kingdom.”
Clinical Trials in Russia are Fast
I.M. Sechenov First Moscow State Medical University, Lomonosov Moscow State University and other medical and academic institutions played key roles—serving as clinical investigational sites—to accelerate the clinical trials process in Russia. Along with the recent health ministry approva,l investigators wrap up the final stages of trials involving 330 patients. Again the studies have been conducted, much like has been reported around the word, in record time. However, there has been some purported issues centering around ethical controversy in Russia. TrialSite News reported on some claims of questionable ethical practices involving COVID-19 vaccine and therapy trials in Russia. It should be noted that the media outlet that reported some concerning activity centering on ethical practices of clinical trials sponsors and investigative sites is an overtly anti-Russian government so various claims aren’t conclusive but rather data points to be investigated further.
RDIF a Key Player
That Russia has an approved drug that helps its people with COVID-19 symptoms can largely be attributed to the RDIF. Although it is actually an investment fund, the organization has been very active in working on deals to support not only therapy development but also testing kits and a vaccine.
Led by Mr. Dmitriev, the fund was established in 2011 to make investments in leading high-growth companies in Russia. With a mandate to co-invest with other institutional investors, the group serves as a catalyst for direct investment into Russia. According to some sources, RDIF maintains $10 billion of capital under management. It has been reported that RDIF efforts have led to over $40 billion of foreign capital infusion into the Russian economy.