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By Adam Jourdan
SHANGHAI Oct 16 A Chinese drugmaker with
military ties has sent an experimental Ebola drug to Africa for
use by Chinese aid workers and is planning clinical trials there
to combat a deadly outbreak of the disease, executives at the
firm told Reuters on Thursday.
Sihuan Pharmaceutical Holdings Group Ltd has
supplied several thousand doses of its drug JK-05 to the region,
Chief Operating Officer Jia Zhongxin said. More doses could be
sent if needed, Jia said.
An Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the worst on record, has
killed more than 4,000 people.
Governments and drugmakers around the globe have been racing
to find a treatment for the outbreak, which has spread as far as
the United States and Europe. U.S. President Barack Obama has
pledged to get more "aggressive" against the disease.
"Aid workers have already taken the drug with them, and if a
case breaks out (amongst the aid workers), then the drug may be
used," added Huo Caixia, Sihuan's assistant general manager.
Sihuan, part-owned by U.S. investment bank Morgan Stanley
, is hoping to get the drug fast-tracked for civilian use
in China. It has signed an agreement with the Academy of
Military Medical Sciences (AMMS), a research unit, to seek
approval for the drug's use in China and push it to market.
The drug, approved in China for emergency military use only,
was initially developed by AMMS.
If it proves to be an effective cure it would be a big prize
for China's medical sector and a boost to the country's soft
power in Africa, an increasingly important partner for the
world's No.2 economy.
Sihuan says it is China's third-largest prescription
drugmaker. It was originally a military scientific unit, which
was spun off into its current form in 2001.
The company is preparing for clinical trials in Africa and
could test the drug on African Ebola patients, said Huo. So far
no Chinese nationals have been infected.
"Right now we're formulating a plan for clinical trials, and
don't rule out the possibility of using African patients," she
said, adding that any outbreak of Ebola in Asia or China would
speed up the drug's timetable to market.
There are around a million Chinese nationals living in
Africa, with some 10,000 in the countries most affected by
Ebola, which are Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia.
China has sent hundreds of aid workers to Africa to help in
the fight against the Ebola outbreak and more than $35 million
in medical aid to the worst affected countries.
China's military has also given Sihuan the green-light to
produce emergency supplies of the drug.
JK-05 has not been used on humans, although Sihuan says it
has proven effective during animal testing on mice.
Its development lags some way behind U.S.-developed ZMapp
and TKM-Ebola, which have been tested on monkeys and used on
Ebola patients. However, analysts said the drug's similarities
to Japanese influenza drug Favipiravir is an encouraging sign.
Japanese firm Fujifilm Holdings Corp last week said
the French and Guinean governments were considering clinical
trials of Favipiravir, developed by group firm Toyama Chemical
Co, to treat patients infected with Ebola.
(Reporting by Adam Jourdan; Editing by Neil Fullick)