A Japanese anti-viral drug known as Avigan is generating buzz over its potential to treat COVID-19. Also known as favipiravir, the drug is already being tested in China and Japan for its potential use as a treatment for coronavirus and is set to begin its first U.S. clinical trials soon.

Avigan manufacturer Fujifilm Corporation announced on Sunday that the U.S. clinical trials will begin in Massachusetts, where the drug will be tested on 50 coronavirus patients at three Massachusetts hospitals. These hospitals include Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Massachusetts General Hospital, and the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

In 2014, Avigan was approved for manufacture and sale in Japan after it was proven effective in combating influenza by impeding the replication of the virus. According to Fujifilm, Avigan works by inhibiting RNA polymerase necessary for influenza virus replication.  

“Due to this mechanism of action, it is expected that Avigan may potentially have an antiviral effect on the new coronavirus, because like influenza viruses, coronaviruses are single-stranded RNA viruses that also depend on viral RNA polymerase,” explained the company.

Although Avigan was approved for manufacture and sale in 2014, it has never been distributed on the market and is currently unavailable even in hospitals or pharmacies in Japan. Fujifilm noted that the drug can only be supplied at the discretion of Japan’s Health Labor and Welfare Ministry and upon request by the Japanese Government.

Last month, Fujifilm announced that it had begun the third phase of the clinical trial aimed to evaluate the safety and efficacy of Avigan for the treatment of COVID-19 patients in Japan. On Sunday, local media also reported that Avigan was already being tested in China as a potential treatment for the deadly disease.

According to reports, Japan will triple its production of the drug once it is proven to treat COVID-19. Currently, the country’s supply is just enough to treat 700,000 patients.

Meanwhile, various teams are already trying to develop a vaccine for COVID-19. On Friday, a team of researchers from Oxford University claimed that a vaccine might already be available for public use by September.

Coronavirus COVID-19 Laboratory Test, Cure, Vaccine Andressa Parreiras, Biomedic, and Larissa Vuitika, biologist, work in a laboratory during the extraction of the virus genetic material on March 24, 2020 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. The Ministry of Health convened The Technological Vaccine Center of the Federal University of Minas Gerais laboratory to conduct research on the coronavirus (COVID-19) in order to diagnose, test and develop a vaccine. According to the Ministry of Health, as of Tuesday, March 24, Brazil has 1.891 confirmed cases of the coronavirus (COVID-19) and at least 34 recorded deceases. Pedro Vilela/Getty Images