The board for the state pharmaceutical manufacturer recently agreed to produce its own Favipiravir to meet demand for COVID-19 treatment in the country, said Dr Sophon Mekthon, chairman of the GPO’s board of directors.
“It is very important to create medicine security during a time of crisis. Our pharmaceutical team is working hard studying the formula for Favipiravir to make it more efficient. We plan to produce it by next year,” he told the media.
He added the Favipiravir patent has already expired, so Thailand can produce it legally. Favipiravir is an antiviral medication used to treat influenza in Japan. It is known for stopping viruses from duplicating and has been used to treat COVID-19.
Thailand has been importing Favipiravir, mostly from Japan, to treat COVID-19 patients with moderate to severe symptoms since January.
The Ministry of Public Health has 200,000 Favipiravir tablets in stock, which is 80% below its target of one million.
But the ministry believes the current stockpile is sufficient to treat 3,000 COVID-19 cases. Due to side effects and limited stock, the ministry limits the use of Favipiravir to more serious infections.
It is not the first time that GPO produced medicine to solve severe outbreaks.
Over a decade ago, the agency produced Oseltamivir under the commercial name GPO-A-Flu® to help combat the bird flu epidemic.
To produce Favipiravir, the agency will seek approval from the Thai Food and Drug Administration (FAD) and the Department of Medical Sciences.
The GPO has already ordered the chemical precursors to produce the drug.
Pitchaya Dilokpattanamongkol, a lecturer at the Faculty of Pharmacy, Mahidol University, said that Favipiravir is not officially recognised as the main drug to fight against COVID-19.
But she touted its “outstanding efficacy” in helping treat the coronavirus while “producing less side effects”.
“Many studies found that the drug has produced [limited] side-effects, which can occur in all medicines. There might be an increased risk of uric acid concentrations in the body ... but it is in an acceptable level,” Ms Pitchaya said.
But she warned that the Favipiravir is unsafe for pregnant woman because it directly affects the fetus in utero. Ms Pitchaya said that the best way to control COVID-19 would be a vaccine.
There are reportedly 70 medical research teams working to develop such a vaccine. But it is currently believed that an additional 12-18 months will be required before such a vaccine is available, due to the complications stemming from the need for human trials.