All of our recommendations, unless specified, relate to acute COVID-19 in adults.
Some of our recommendations vary according to the severity of COVID-19 illness. Definitions of the categories are based on World Health Organization (WHO) criteria and can be viewed by clicking the plus (+) signs below.
We recommend against use of Favipiravir in the treatment of mild, moderate, severe and critical categories of COVID-19 except in the context of a clinical trial.
DATE OF RECOMMENDATION: 9 January 2023
Favipiravir is an antiviral drug that has been evaluated in the past for the treatment of Influenza and Ebola. Favipiravir was widely used in the initial part of the pandemic in Wuhan, Russia, and many parts of Asia. It was initially used in India as well, after approval from the Drugs Controller General of India in June 2020 and made its way into many state and institutional guidelines.
The evidence is of very low certainty for all clinically relevant outcomes indicating that the effect of Favipiravir on all-cause mortality, progression to oxygen therapy, and progression to invasive mechanical ventilation is very uncertain.
The evidence was very uncertain on adverse events and serious adverse events, but the effect estimates suggest an increase in hyperuricemia in arms receiving Favipiravir.
Overall, the benefit of Favipiravir in the treatment of COVID-19 is uncertain as there was significant heterogeneity among the trials, compared to what would be standard of care today and wide confidence intervals in effect estimates of critical outcomes. Hence at this point, there is insufficient evidence to recommend this drug routinely in the context of Covid-19.
Date of latest search: September 26th 2022
Date of completion & presentation to the Expert Working Group:
Date of planned review:
Evidence Synthesis Team: Hanna Alexander, Pritish Korula, Jisha Sara John,Richard Kirubakaran, Bhagteshwar Singh, Prathap Tharyan, Priscilla Rupali
a. Downgraded by two levels for risk of bias: Dmitri Puskar, Holubar M, Solayamani Dodaran M , Shenoy S, Udwadia Z and Zhao H have some concerns and Balykova, Behnam Mahmudi, Chen, Finberg, Lou, Ruzhenstova TA, Shinkai M and Tabarsi have high RoB
b. Downgraded by 1 level for inconsistency:As we identified moderate heterogeneity, (I² = 59%)
c. Downgraded by 1 level for serious indirectness as the studies vary with regard to the type of setting(outpatients/inpatients), the severity of COVID-19 illness and co-interventions.
d. Downgraded by one level for serious imprecision: lower confidence interval bound represents a mild benefit from Favipiravir whereas the upper bound includes harm.
e. Downgraded by one level for Risk of Bias as Ivaschenko and Solayamani Dodaran M had some concerns in the risk of bias whereas Behnam Maahmudie, Finberg, Lou Y and Ruzhenstova (40%) have high risk of bias.
s. Downgraded by 1 level for inconsistency :As we identified moderate heterogenity, (I² = 52%)
t. Downgraded by one level for serious imprecision: lower confidence interval bound represents mild harm from Favipiravir, whereas the upper bound suggests appreciable benefit.
u. Downgraded by 2 levels for Risk of Bias as Balykova, Ruzhnetsova, Shinkai, Chen & Finberg contribute to >50% of weightage and has high risk of bias
v. Downgraded by 1 level for inconsistency: As we identified considerable heterogeneity, (I² = 72%)
w. Not downgraded for Imprecision, even though the confidence of interval varies from 1.25 to 1.61 because the upper and lower bound point towards harm from the intervention.
x. Downgraded by one level for risk of bias: Holubar M, Shenoy S, Udwadia Z and Zhao H has some concerns whereas Balykov, Finberg, Lou Y, Ruzhenstova TA and Shinkai S have high risk of bias.
y. Not downgraded for inconsistency as we did not identify any important heterogeneity(I²=46%)
The World Health Organization (WHO) on March 11, 2020, declared COVID-19 a worldwide pandemic because of its widespread prevalence and life-altering consequences (1). The disease is caused by SARS-CoV-2 Virus that largely depends on angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE-2) receptor binding, RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RdRp), as well as other host and viral proteins important for successful transmission and replication (2). Several interventions have emerged in the past two years for treating COVID-19, along with numerous existing antivirals currently being investigated in terms of their suitability as potential treatment options, a simple oral antiviral drug for COVID-19 has not yet been developed. (3–5)
Favipiravir (FVP) is one of the many antivirals that are currently being investigated for their efficacy and safety in Covid-19. It is a broad-spectrum antiviral discovered in Japan and was initially used management of influenza, Ebola, and other viral diseases. FVP is a nucleoside analog that can be triphosphorylated in cells to become active and serves as a substrate of virus RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RdRp), leading to an increased mutation frequency, and possibly lethal mutagenesis (6). An excellent bioavailability of ~94%, 54% protein binding, and short half-life with rapid elimination makes favipiravir a promising candidate in the treatment of covid 19. (7)
There is conflicting evidence on the efficacy and safety of favipiravir in Covid 19. FVP was shown to inhibit SARS CoV-2 in vitro (5,8), however, the clinical benefits in Covid-19 patients are relatively low and not established (9,10).With the availability of more studies and the inconsistencies in the data and it is imperative to conduct an updated systematic review to evaluate the clinical benefits of FVP as a treatment for Covid-19
We used Cochrane rapid review methods. We searched the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL), MEDLINE, Epistemonikos, and the COVID‐19‐specific resource www.covid‐nma.com, for studies of any publication status and in any language published up to September 2022. We also reviewed reference lists of systematic reviews and included studies. We contacted researchers to identify unpublished and ongoing studies.
We included randomized controlled trials (RCTs) testing Favipiravir treatment of any dose or duration in people with acute COVID‐19, whether suspected or confirmed. Trials were included if the intervention arm had Favipiravir with or without another experimental drug, and if the comparator arm did not include Favipiravir (this could involve use of placebo, standard care, or other potentially active drugs). We excluded trials that did not report any outcomes that could provide usable data for the review, those which were quasi-randomized and those lacking a comparator arm.
We extracted data for the following outcomes, pre-defined by the Expert Working Group:
- Critical (primary for this review):
- Progression to:
- Oxygen therapy
- Ventilation: non-invasive or invasive
- Critical or Intensive care (any reason)
- Duration of hospitalization
- Progression to:
- Important (secondary):
- Mortality (all-cause) – at 28-30 days, or in-hospital
- Time for clinical improvement
- Time to negative PCR for SARS-CoV-2
- Complications of COVID-19:
- Thrombotic events
- Pulmonary function/fibrosis
- Long covid/post-acute sequelae
- Secondary infections
- Adverse events:
- All and serious, hyperuricemia
Two reviewers independently assessed the eligibility of search results using the online Rayyan tool. Data extraction was performed by one reviewer, and checked by another, using a piloted data extraction tool on Microsoft Word. Risk of bias (RoB) was assessed using the Cochrane RoB v2.0 tool, with review by a second reviewer and compared with covid-nma database. If there was a difference in more than one domain it was assessed by a third independent author. We planned to use risk ratios (RR) for dichotomous outcomes and mean differences (MD) for continuous outcomes, with 95% confidence intervals (CIs). We planned to meta-analyze if appropriate, i.e., if outcomes were measured and reported in a similar way for similar populations in each trial, using random-effects models with the assumption of substantial clinical heterogeneity (the appropriateness of which would be checked by the Methodology Committee), and the I2 test to calculate residual statistical heterogeneity, using Review Manager (RevMan) v5.4. We used GRADE methodology to make a summary of findings tables on GradeProGDT.
We found 20 RCTs that matched the PICO question as pre-defined by the expert working group. The trials included a total of 4675 participants, all of whom were adults. Three trials were conducted in China, early in the pandemic; all completed recruitment in April 2020(15,21,30). The other trials recruited from April 2020 to November 2021: in Iran (13,26,27); Russia (12,17,20,23); India(28); Baharin (11); Saudi Arabia(14); Malaysia (16); the UK (22); the USA (18,19); Kuwait (24); Japan(25);one trial recruited from the United states of America, Brazil and Mexico(29) .All trials varied in disease severity ranging from mild to critical. 15 trials recruited hospitalized patients (11-13,15-18,20,21,24-30), 1 trial recruited both outpatients and inpatients(23) whilst the other four trials were focused on ambulatory care and only included outpatients (14,19,22,29).
Severity of COVID‐19 disease at enrolment was reported as asymptomatic, mild, moderate, severe or critical; this was inferred using classification as described by the authors in accordance with the WHO guidance. Of the 4675 participants (20 trials), 15 (0.3%) were asymptomatic, 1412 (30.2%) had mild disease, 1410 (30.1%) moderate disease, 517 (11.1%) severe disease and 4(0.08) had critical disease. Severity was either unclear or not reported in 1317(28.1%) of participants.
Each trial and its results are described below; characteristics of the trials are summarised in the Summary of characteristics of included trials table. All the trials have varying risk of bias across all domains. Risk of bias for each domain per trial is displayed alongside the forest plots below.
The following comparisons were investigated in the trials (we compared outcomes for arms randomized to Favipiravir vs. standard of care or active comparators).
1. FVP versus standard care without FVP, or placebo
Seventeen trials were included in this comparison (11-13,16-25,28-30). Twelve trials compared FVP to standard of care (11-13,16-21,23,25,28,30) whereas five trials, (14,19,22,24,29), compared FVP to placebo.
2. FVP versus Umifenovir
One trial was included in this comparison (15).
3. FVP vs LPV/r
Two trials were included in this comparison, in which participants were randomized 1:1 ratio to receive FVP or LPV/r (26,27)
Since Favipiravir was compared with Standard of care, placebo and active comparators we did a sensitivity analysis to assess the robustness of the pooled estimate by stratifying the comparators separately from standard of care or placebo. We did this for critical outcomes of mortality, time to clinical improvement, time to negative PCR and duration of hospitalization. We concluded that there was no difference between the pooled estimate and the analysis done separately for Favipiravir vs SOC/placebo and Favipiravir vs Active comparator and hence decided to use the pooled estimate for representing the meta-analysis and summary of findings tables.
Our expert working group classified progression to oxygen, non-invasive ventilation (NIV) and invasive mechanical ventilation (IMV) as critical outcomes and mortality, time to clinical improvement and thrombotic or secondary infections as important outcomes. However, as the situation in the country evolved, the guidelines group upgraded mortality, progression to respiratory failure, oxygen requirement and critical and intensive care admission as critical outcomes and others as important outcomes.
Critical (primary) Outcomes
As presented in the ‘Summary of findings’ table, the evidence is of very low certainty for the effect of Favipiravir on mortality, progression to non-invasive ventilation, progression to invasive mechanical ventilation, time to clinical improvement, need for hospital admission, time to negative PCR and adverse events-all and serious. Whereas the summary of findings table represented the outcome, the duration of hospitalization as high evidence certainty and adverse event-hyperuriceminia to have moderate certainity.
- All-cause mortality: Very low certainty of evidence in 4630 patients in twenty RCTs(11-30) found the evidence is very uncertain about the effect of Favipiravir on all-cause mortality vs. standard of care or active comparator (RR 0.83; 95% CI 0.61 to 1.15).
- Progression to Invasive mechanical ventilation:Very low certainty evidence in 1383 patients from eight RCTs (11,13,16,18,20,21,23,26) found that the evidence is very uncertain about the effect of Favipiravir vs. standard of care or active comparator on progression to invasive mechanical ventilation (RR 0.94; 95% CI 0.70 to 1.26).
- Progression to non-Invasive ventilation:Very low certainty evidence in 250 patients from thirteen RCTs(11-22,29) found that the evidence is very uncertain about the effect of Favipiravir vs. standard of care or active comparator on progression to non-invasive ventilation (RR 4.0; 95% CI 0.48 to 33.33).
- Need for hospital admission: Very low certainty in 393 patients from two RCTs(14,19)found that the evidence is very uncertain for Favipiravir standard of care or active comparator on the need for hospitalization (RR 0.71; 95% CI 0.03 to 19.63).
- Time to clinical improvement (>2 point reduction in the WHO ordinal score): Very low certainty in ……..patients from five RCTs(12,18,23,24,28) found that the evidence is very uncertain about the effect of Favipiravir standard of care or active comparator on time to clinical improvement (HR 1.35; 95% CI 0.96 to 1.90).
- Progression to oxygen therapy: Very low certainty evidence in 543 patients from two studies(16,21), found that the evidence is uncertain about the effect of Favipiravir on progression to oxygen therapy when compared to standard of care or active comparator (RR 1.20; 95% CI 0.83 to 1.75).
- Need for critical or intensive care for any reason:Low certainty evidence in 1215 patients from five RCTs (11,16,23,26,27), found that Favipiravir found that the evidence is uncertain about the effect of Favipiravir on progression to intensive care when compared to standard of care or active comparator (RR 0.99; 95% CI 0.68 to 1.42).
- Duration of hospitalization: High certainty of evidence in 647 patients from three RCTs(13,16,18) that reported the mean duration of hospitalisation was 0.28 days lower in patients receiving Favipiravir when compared to standard of care or active comparator indicating Favipiravir results in slight reduction in the duration of hospitalization.
- Time to negative PCR: Very low certainty of evidence from seven RCTs(14,18,19,23,25,28,30) found that the evidence is very uncertain for effect of Favipiravir on time to negative PCR when compared to standard of care or active comparator (HR 1.19 95% CI 0.93 to 1.53).
- All Adverse events : Very low certainty of evidence in 3657 patients from fourteen RCTs(12,14-16,18-20,22-25,28,20) found that the evidence is very uncertain on effect of favipiravir on adverse events when compared to standard of care or active comparator (RR 1.29; 95%CI 1.15 to 1.45).
- Adverse events Serious( attributable to the drug) : Very low certainty of evidence in 2773 patients from twelve RCTs(12,14,15,19,21,22-25,28,30) found that the evidence is very uncertain for the effect of Favipiravir on serious adverse events when compared to standard of care or active comparator (RR 1.13; 95%CI 0.76 to 1.69).
- Adverse Events – Hyperuricemia: Moderately certainty evidence in 2472 patients from twelve RCTs(15,16,18,21-24,28-30) found that Favipiravir probably result in an increase in hyperuricemia (RR 5.20; 95%CI 3.86 to 7.01).
1. All‐cause mortality ‐ at 28 to 30 days, or in hospital.
2. Progression to Invasive Mechanical Ventilation.
3. Progression to non‐invasive ventilation.
4. Need for admission to hospital (if ambulatory).
5. Time to clinical improvement (defined as time to a two‐point reduction in patients’ admission status on WHO’s ordinal scale).
6. Progression to Oxygen Therapy.
7. Need for critical or intensive care (any reason).
8. Duration of hospitalization
9. Time to negative PCR for SARS‐CoV‐2.
10. All adverse events
11. Serious adverse events attributable to the drug.
13. Subgroup analysis (comparator): All-cause Mortality.
14. Subgroup analysis (comparator): Need for Critical Care
15. Subgroup analysis (comparator): Time to negative PCR.
16. Subgroup analysis (comparator): Time to Clinical Improvement
17. Subgroup analysis (comparator): All-Adverse Events
18. Subgroup analysis (comparator): Hyperuricemia
The Antiviral Expert Working Group met on 13th June 2021 to consider Favipiravir as a treatment for COVID-19. Conflict of interest declarations were reviewed by the Steering Committee; none were found to be relevant to Favipiravir.
A summary and then more detailed explanations of the Expert Working Group's judgements follow.
The COVID-19 pandemic in India with more than 44 million cases and over 0.53 million deaths has significantly impacted and stressed the health structure of the country. During the inception of the pandemic,with a shortage of intensive care unit beds, oxygen and trained personnel the country was facing a major health crisis. This had prompted many irrational and experimental treatment interventions like Favipiravir in all severity of patients across the country in patients hospitalized in COVID-19 without clear indication or evidence in which subgroup of population or disease severity the drug is effective for. Currently the drug is not used popularly for the treatment of covid-19. The group judged the problem to be of utmost priority.
The panel agreed that the evidence suggests that Favipiravir doesn’t have a clinically significant effect on mortality, time to negative PCR, reducing progression of disease, or preventing critical or intensive care admissions. However there was a mild reduction in the duration of hospital stay.Also,the expert working group (EWG) noted that the certainty of evidence for duration of hospitalization was of
The pooled data did not suggest any increase in serious or other adverse events, or adverse events leading to discontinuation when Favipiravir was added to usual care or with active comparators. However, the panel felt that hyperuricemia is a well-known adverse effect of favipiravir which is self-limiting in most cases and caution should be advised for use in renal failure and gout.
Certainty of evidence
Using GRADE methodology, the evidence synthesis team rated the certainty of evidence as very low for all-cause mortality, duration of hospitalization, progression to respiratory failure, progression to oxygen therapy, progression to invasive mechanical ventilation, any adverse events and serious adverse events. Evidence was high certainity for duration of hospitalization and moderate for adverse events-hyperuricemia. The expert working agreed with these judgements and rated the overall certainty of evidence as very low.
The EWG felt that all the outcomes including those of mortality, progression to respiratory failure, oxygen therapy or mechanical ventilation, critical or intensive care for any reason, duration of hospitalisation and outcomes related to adverse events were expressed variably in the studies. However, there is probably no important uncertainty or variability on how people would value the main outcomes.
Balance of effects
The expert working group felt that the balance of effects does not favor either the intervention or the comparison. The panel felt that there is no convincing evidence to prove the benefit of this intervention, since there were different comparators and varying severity of disease across all studies. The intervention was also found to be not efficacious as per the sensitivity analysis where results were similar when we compared after splitting into 2 categories -SOC + active comparator (another antiviral) vs together.
The group felt that the costs were small. The erratic supply chain had led to an increased demand for this drug during the initial phase of the second wave of the pandemic despite its uncertain clinical benefits until the drug was removed from the ministry of health guidelines for COVID-19 on June 7th 2021. The group includes clinicians in different types of Indian hospitals who have a good idea of drug and hospitalization costs.
Certainty of evidence of required resources
No studies reporting this were reviewed by the group but the clinicians in the group were aware of the cost and hence felt that there was high certainty of evidence for required resources to implement this intervention.
The panel discussed that even though there was no research evidence that evaluated cost of Favipiravir in an Indian context, it favors the comparison, as this intervention was not of clinical benefit and conferred a cost for implementation and would always be in addition to the standard care.
At this point in time this intervention would reduce equity if found efficacious (but it’s not) as cost are low and there is no need for hospitalization.
The group felt that this intervention is likely to have wide acceptance by all the relevant stakeholders (policy-makers, patients and clinicians) if efficacious as it is an oral drug that is probably quite safe, but taking evidence and cost into account a well-informed clinician would be unlikely to use it.
This is a feasible intervention if found efficacious as it is easy to deliver and available easily over the counter in the country.
Currently the evidence to support using Favipiravir for the treatment of COVID-19 in any patient group is lacking, as the certainty of the evidence to date is very low. Regarding adverse effects, there is evidence to suggest that there is definite hyperuricemia when given as a treatment for COVID-19 and the benefits (or the lack thereof) right now do not outweigh the risk. It is contraindicated in pregnancy based on data from animal studies showing teratogenicity thus caution should be exercised when prescribing for patients of reproductive age. Favipiravir is an oral drug, making it suitable as an outpatient or inpatient treatment. The dose is 1800 mg twice daily on the first day, followed by 800mg twice daily up to day 14. Previously there were only 200mg and 400mg doses available making the pill burden quite high which might affect treatment adherence, however 800mg tablets are now available. A two week treatment course costs around Rs.3600. If further evidence emerges showing Favipiravir is effective and safe for the treatment of COVID-19, it should be straightforward to implement this treatment into existing protocols.
Our conditional recommendation against the use of Favipiravir applies to all subgroups of patients with COVID-19. The group considered all trials of Favipiravir and found no subgroups where there was benefit in clinically meaningful endpoints whether evaluated by category of severity or by co-morbidities. There are very limited data available assessing its use in patients with liver or kidney disease.
Although the evidence for discontinuation of the drug because of the undesirable effects reported with widespread use such as hyperuricemia, liver dysfunction and chest pain has so far been low, this needs careful monitoring as the potential for drug-related harm cannot be ruled out.
There is currently no evidence to support the use of Favipiravir in any patient group for COVID-19 treatment. There is a need for conduct of well-structured, adequately powered randomized controlled trials with a low risk of bias to address the following:
Does use of Favipiravir in different subgroups of disease severity or in different special populations (children, immunosuppressed, co-morbid conditions) keep patients from getting admitted into hospital?
What dose of Favipiravir is safe and efficacious for the treatment of COVID-19?
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