So here in Hong Kong, I don't think I'm going to try shining light from inside my body to combat Covid-19, or injecting any disinfectant. Tempting ... but I might skip the unfortunate export of that "knowledge."
Of greater concern (unless anyone takes those words at face value) is the apparent bad news out of China about the tests run on the Gilead Sciences (GILD) antiviral drug remdesivir.
It's worth watching shares of Glenmark Pharmaceuticals (GLKQY), which has a U.S.-listed ADR. Indian generic drugmaker Glenmark has seen its stock go on a wild ride.
Glenmark is attempting to make another antiviral drug favipiravir, originally from Japan. Chinese tests on U.S. and Japanese drugs, throw in an Indian generic maker, intravenous disinfectants ... there's quite the mix chasing the elusive Covid-19 "cure".
Glenmark shares are up 76.9% since March 30. But that has just reclaimed all the ground they lost in February. It leaves them essentially unchanged for the year, down 0.7%.
The shares popped 5.8% at the open in India today. Glenmark this week said it has filed with Indian regulators for approval to sell favipiravir in the country. But, like the stock this year, the optimism waned today, leaving them up only 1.7% at the close.
We simply don't know how well these drugs work yet. The early findings were promising, that's all. The shares jump and fall as we speculate on how effective they are.
The medical Web site STAT reported on Thursday on long-awaited findings from a remdesivir study in China. The draft info shows the Gilead drug fared no better than a placebo in a trial of 237 hospitalized patients with severe Covid-19. In the test, 13.9% of remdesivir patients died compared with 12.8% in a control group. The drug "was not associated with clinical or virological benefits", the summary states.
The draft was inadvertently released before peer review by the World Health Organization. Gilead insists the report is being mischaracterized. The study was terminated prematurely because it got too difficult to recruit patients when Covid-19 cases in China were falling.
China is running tests on both remdesivir as well as favipiravir, the active ingredient in Avigan. Although Avigan is a Fujifilm Holdings (FUJIY) drug, it's based on a compound uncovered more than 20 years ago. So favipiravir is a drug that Glenmark hopes to make in generic form.
I've noted in a March 20 story that neither favipiravir nor remdesivir appears to be all that effective on very serious cases of Covid-19. The early success showed they worked to speed recovery in mild cases. And I reported 10 days later that Fujifilm shares got another boost when Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the government plans to approve Avigan for use against Covid-19.
Japan, which has been worried about fetal abnormalities with Avigan, is taking its sweet time. Its own favipiravir tests are being kept under wraps, although the chairman of the Japan Medical Association said in a Yomiuri Shimbun interview this week that he hopes for Avigan's early approval to treat the coronavirus. So far, it has only been used in emergencies against new strains of flu.
Other countries aren't hanging around. Indonesian president Joko Widodo says he has already imported 5,000 doses of Avigan, and is "in the process of ordering 2 million more".
And Glenmark hopes to make it in India. A normal drug patent lasts for 20 years, typically from the patent filing. It was Toyama Chemical that first developed the compound behind favipiravir, in 1998. It was initially working on a treatment for herpes, but shifted gears to flu. Fujifilm took over ailing Toyama Chemical in 2008.
Since Avigan was only approved for use in Japan in 2014, it would be unfortunate for Fujifilm to lose out on the drug if it is established as a Covid-19 treatment. There's clamor for any treatment to be made free to the world, but that seems scant reward for the scientists whose years of hard work developed the drug. Patent law will differ by nation, and patents can be extended if drugs are adapted for different treatments than their original use.
Fujifilm has licensed production of favipiravir in China to Zhejiang Hisun Pharmaceutical, after Fujifilm's patent expired there. The Chinese company was approved in February to start making the drug to fight flu, with tests starting on its use against Covid-19 around the same time.
I took Glenmark's generic anti-malarial drug Maloff Protect over December and January, when I visited my father's homeland, South Africa. There's a slim chance of contracting malaria in South Africa, but we were in the Lowveld near the Mozambique border, and the northern KwaZulu-Natal coast, so better safe than sorry.
Mumbai-based Glenmark has a Gaelic font on its packaging, and I would have sworn it was an Irish company. The Maloff box only lists its U.K. subsidiary, so the font had me fooled on my trip ...
Glenmark is firmly an Indian company though, despite its international arms, and one of the world's biggest generic makers, with around 150 drugs approved for U.S. use. Now that we're so interested in active ingredients, it's worth pointing out that Maloff contains atovaquone and proguanil hydrochloride. I'm not aware of any presidents globally recommending them for Covid-19, but watch this space ...
The rival malaria treatment hydroxychloroquine and its chloroquine simpler form are treatments that have been touted around against Covid-19, of course. I'm very suspect of that, and would like to see the research prove it. Incidentally, chloroquine is not much use as a malaria treatment anymore, particular in the part of Africa I was visiting. That's because the mosquitoes have developed resistance to the drug, first used to treat malaria in 1947, following widespread use (and overuse).
In fact, of the top 20 generic drug companies globally, eight are based in India. That may stand them in good stead.
Unfortunately, Hubei Province and its capital Wuhan are manufacturing centers for the small-molecule active pharmaceutical ingredients for some generic drugs. This raises concern that, even with Wuhan easing lockdown restrictions as of April 8, the supply chain for those ingredients may be disrupted by travel bans and logistical snafus.
Glenmark and its fellow generic maker Jubilant Pharma, a unit of Jubilant Life Sciences (NSE:JUBILANT), are not "materially dependent" on China, according to Standard & Poor's, which rates the credit of both. The Indian companies either make their own ingredients or should be able to source them from other suppliers. But bottlenecks could develop globally, particularly given the highly-regulated environment for drugmakers.
But they are not completely insulated. Jubilant, although based in the northern Indian city of Noida, has had an outbreak of Covid-19 surrounding its Nanjangud plant in the southern Indian state of Karnataka. The company, also a major contract manufacturer, had been importing ingredients from China, but says those goods test all clear, and have nothing to do with the cluster of 49 cases surrounding employees at the plant and their contacts.
The chairman of Cipla (NSE:CIPLA), another major Indian generic company, told the Times of India that Cipla is initiating the development of the raw materials in favipiravir and the Gilead drug remidesivir, as well as another drug bolaxavir, with the help of government laboratories.
I'll let the patent lawyers sort all that out. Meanwhile, investors can watch for evidence of favipiravir's effectiveness not only in Fujifilm shares but also those of Glenmark.