On March 15, 2021, Russian President Vladimir Putin awarded the Chairman of the Board of Directors of Promomed Group Petr Bely the Order of Pirogov for merits in the production of medicines. This award is the highest recognition for the development of antiviral drug product Areplivir (Promomed’s trade mark for favipiravir). Petr Bely gave an interview to the Kommersant Science magazine.
— How and why did your company decide to bet on favipiravir? Have other medications been considered?
— Thanks to our good international contacts in medical community, we quickly realized that coronavirus is a serious threat. The Russian Academy of Sciences also reacted quickly, and a consortium of academics was formed to study COVID-19. With their help, as early as at the beginning of spring 2020, we formed the long list of ten potential drugs, and by April two leaders remained on the short list. As a result, based on the forecasts for pharmacological modeling, on the expert opinions of molecular biologists, on the assessment of the availability of technical solutions, we decided in favor of favipiravir.
I think we have chosen the right track. Remdesivir, our second «finalist», is administered intravenously, which means it is only suitable for hospitalized patients. But our intent was to create a widely accessible drug that would prevent hospitalization. And so it happened.
The government has also made great efforts to ensure that people are provided necessary treatment on time and «in situ», with a doctor’s visit. The intent is that patients with mild to moderate illness could cope with the disease at home. In this sense, we managed to create a mass medicinal product.
Fighting infections has always been one of the company’s priorities. By 2020, a major research center was already operating at our biotechnological site, the Biokhimik plant; there were appropriate technologies and production facilities. Of course, we had to reorganize to fight viruses, but the accumulated potential played a positive role. Yes, it is a novel pathogen, but the company had all the resources to find solutions to combat it, we just were able to reorient the existing potential in a shortest time.
— Will you continue to work on Areplivir? If so, in which direction?
— The work continues. Its second stage consists in the creation of an intravenous dosage form of favipiravir for the treatment of moderate-to-severe hospitalized patients and patients with severe disease. Such patients may have difficulties to take tablets, so an injectable dosage form for this segment can be life-saving. As soon as the production of intravenous Areplivir is started, we will be able to provide full protection at all stages of the disease.
— Has the effect of Areplivir on post-COVID syndrome been studied?
— The topic of recovery after infections is multifactorial, and the entire medical community has a lot of research work ahead. Scientific thought will be aimed at correcting pathological conditions, preventing possible life-threatening complications. We are also contributing to this work, we have drugs that are candidates with a very high degree of readiness, for which clinical trials have already begun or are being prepared. It is worth noting that while the consequences of COVID have yet to be studied for years, certain results on prevention are already available. For example, we conducted an amazingly effective study: our colleagues, doctors of a Moscow hospital, studied cohorts of patients who undergo surgical treatment with induction anesthesia; they were given Areplivir for preventive purposes. We see that out of 200 people not one fell ill, while statistics show that in such situations, about 20% of patients fall ill with coronavirus.
I am sure that both effective treatment methods and effective preventive measures are needed, primarily for those who are at risk or have a high-risk condition. Therefore, the importance of research on the preventive action of Areplivir cannot be overestimated.
— Are other countries showing interest in procurement of Areplivir?
— There is a high interest in the drug in the world. We communicate with more than 50 countries regarding Areplivir. Of course, the delivery and use of a drug are preceded by approval procedures. In a number of countries, the approval process is already underway.
— Does your company plan to develop other antiviral drugs?
— We plan to create a platform, a complex of systemic protection against infections, both bacterial and viral ones. The difficulty with bacterial infections is that bacteria quickly «learn» and develop antibiotic resistance. Therefore, we have developed a program to overcome the multidrug-resistant infection common in hospitals.
We are constantly expanding our work with systemic antiviral drugs in order to have a reserve of drugs that affect different mechanisms of penetration, reproduction, and action of the virus. Our goal is to create a reliable «umbrella», rescue medications for existing and new viral infections.