How Fujifilm played a role in the fight against Ebola

Fujifilm has made an offer to the World Health Organization to distribute a stockpile of anti-influenza meds that could treat up to 20,000 individuals with Ebola. A new New Yorker article outlines why – how digital imaging behemoth Fujifilm is playing what could be an important role in the treatment of Ebola. Five years ago, it […]

Fujifilm has made an offer to the World Health Organization to distribute a stockpile of anti-influenza meds that could treat up to 20,000 individuals with Ebola.

A new New Yorker article outlines why – how digital imaging behemoth Fujifilm is playing what could be an important role in the treatment of Ebola. Five years ago, it acquired Toyama Chemical, which this past March received approval in Japan for an anti-influenza drug called Favipiravir.

The drug’s been studied for its treatment in Ebola, and was offered up by the Japanese government “as a potential stopgap in the fight against an outbreak of Ebola that has, according to the World Health Organization, killed nineteen hundred people in West Africa.”

This part is key:

Avigan offers new hope because, since it received regulatory approval for sale in Japan in the spring, it has been manufactured on a much larger scale than the experimental drugs being developed specifically for Ebola. Supplies of ZMapp, which was created by the San Diego-based Mapp Biopharmaceutical, have already been exhausted, and its results have been mixed. Two American doctors treated with ZMapp recovered, but a Liberian doctor who also received it died. Fujifilm’s Avigan stockpile would be sufficient to treat twenty thousand people—the exact number of infections that the World Health Organization has estimated might occur before the current outbreak is brought under control.

The New Yorker article said, interestingly, that Fujifilm has delved into pharma because “that’s where the money is.”

Unlike its former rival Kodak, which filed for chapter-eleven bankruptcy in 2012, Fujifilm was nimble in reshaping its business to suit the age of the digital camera, allowing it to weather a decade, the aughts, in which its film business went from producing two-thirds of the company’s profits to virtually none of them. By investing heavily in research and development in new areas, Fujifilm bucked the stereotypes of inflexibility and excessive bureaucracy that have haunted large Japanese companies since the nation’s massive real-estate and stock-market bubbles burst in the early nineteen-nineties.

The company will likely be offering Avigan at low cost; another form of bucking the pharma trend – while this move wouldn’t be profitable for any drugmaker, Fujifilm is diversified enough to offset the costs of giving away a whole bunch of drugs for close to nothing.