Photo/Illutration Tests will begin soon to determine if the anti-flu drug Avigan is effective in treating the coronavirus. (Provided by Fujifilm Corp.)

The health ministry is moving to test whether a drug designed to treat influenza also works against the new coronavirus.

Katsunobu Kato, the minister of health, labor and welfare, said Feb. 22 that officials would draw up the necessary paperwork over the next few days so clinical trials can begin to determine if Avigan works against the coronavirus.

The government has a stockpile of the anti-flu drug Avigan, also known by its generic name of Favipiravir.

The drug was developed by Fujifilm Toyama Chemical Co.

It was approved for use in 2014 on the condition that it would only be used when the government determined it was necessary to deal with new types of influenza that cannot be treated with existing anti-flu drugs such as Tamiflu.

Avigan cannot be taken by expectant mothers because it is said to have side-effects on fetuses.

There is no available drug to treat the current strain of coronavirus.

The World Health Organization has begun clinical tests of anti-HIV drugs as well as those developed to treat the Ebola virus disease to determine if they can be used against the coronavirus. The organization said results could emerge in three weeks or so.

Research in Japan has also focused on whether anti-HIV drugs can be used.