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Japan to provide experimental Ebola drug

Offer comes as British health care worker repatriated for treatment against Ebola

Japan is ready to provide an unapproved, anti-influenza drug to help treat the deadly Ebola virus, the Japanese government announced on Monday, a day after the Democratic Republic of Congo declared an Ebola outbreak in its northern Equateur province on Sunday caused by a strain different from the West Africa one, according to the health ministry.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters that Japan could offer the drug any time at the request of the World Health Organization (WHO) and was willing to make an international contribution to help control the epidemic that has claimed at least 1,427 lives — mostly in Sierra Leone, Liberia and neighboring Guinea. There have been six outbreaks of Ebola in DRC since the disease was discovered there in 1976, with a total of more than 760 deaths.

Suga said Japan was watching for WHO's decision on further details over the use of untested drugs. In case of an emergency, Japan may respond to individual requests even before any decision by the WHO, he said.

"I am informed that medical professionals could make a request for T-705 in an emergency even before a decision by the WHO. In that case, we would like to respond under certain criteria," he said.

The WHO said earlier this month that it is ethical to use untested drugs on Ebola patients given the magnitude of the outbreak.

T-705 is the developmental code for the influenza drug favipiravir. Japan's Fujifilm Holdings Corp and U.S. partner MediVector are in talks with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to submit an application to expand the use of favipiravir as a treatment for Ebola. Fujifilm's spokesman Takao Aoki said his firm has favipiravir stock for more than 20,000 patients.

The severity of the outbreak has prompted the WHO to declare an international emergency. Health care workers in particular have been hit hard by the virus transmitted via bodily fluids.

On Sunday, a British medical worker was flown home from Sierra Leone after becoming the first Briton infected in an Ebola epidemic. He was picked up with a specially adapted Royal Air Force cargo plane after British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond authorized his repatriation for treatment.

The Department of Health said the patient — whose identity has not been disclosed — was "not currently seriously unwell." The man will be transported to an isolation unit at the Royal Free Hospital in London.

The Royal Free Hospital has Britain's only high-level isolation unit for treatment of infectious diseases, as well as a team of specially trained staff.

Paul Cosford, director for health protection at state body Public Health England, said strict protective measures were being taken to minimize the risk of transmission when transporting and treating the individual in Britain.

Two U.S. doctors, who contracted Ebola in Liberia and were evacuated to the United States, were discharged from hospital last week after receiving treatment with an experimental drug, ZMapp. It was not clear what role it played in their recovery.

Its U.S.-based manufacturer, Mapp Biopharmaceutical, has said limited supplies of the drug have already been exhausted after it was used to treat three African doctors in Liberia.

Wire services

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