June 17, 2020 / 7:31 AM / 21 days ago

Japan's Nichi-Iko jumps on hopes for steroid sales boost to treat COVID-19

TOKYO, June 17 (Reuters) - Shares in Japanese generic drug maker Nichi-Iko Pharmaceutical Co, whose products include steroid drug dexamethasone, jumped nearly 5% on Wednesday after trial results showed it helped reduce death rates of COVID-19 patients.

Researchers in Britain said on Tuesday dexamethasone, used to reduce inflammation in other diseases such as arthritis, cut death rates of the most severely ill COVID-19 patients by around a third, making it the first drug shown to be able to save the lives of people with the respiratory disease.

Peter Horby, an Oxford University professor co-leading the trial, known as the RECOVERY trial, said in a statement that the drug should become standard of care for patients sick enough to require oxygen treatment.

“Dexamethasone is inexpensive, on the shelf, and can be used immediately to save lives worldwide,” he said

Nichi-Iko said it and Bristol-Myers Squibb unit Celgene both sell the drug in Japan.

Nichi-Iko, which sells the drug under the brand name Decadron, is aware of the British research but hasn’t as yet seen a surge in demand, spokesman Taichi Kitao. The company is ready to proactively supply the drug as needed, he said.

Britain’s health ministry said the drug had been approved for use in the state-run health service, export restrictions had been introduced and 200,000 courses of the treatment had been stockpiled.

Dexamethasone is currently on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s list of drugs in shortage. Still several suppliers including one of the largest - Germany’s Fresenius SE - say they have the drug on the hand.

Shares in Nichi-Iko climbed 4.7% on Wednesday, outperforming a 0.6% drop in the broader market. (Reporting by Rocky Swift; Writing by Miyoung Kim; Editing by Edwina Gibbs)

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