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Fujifilm takes on Ebola with drug originally targeting flu

TOKYO--When Japan announced it was ready to supply a new drug to help combat the deadly Ebola virus, one unusual detail emerged — it would be made by Fujifilm.

The company synonymous with cameras and photobooths said it could start producing Avigan, which has been approved in Japan to treat the flu but which scientists think also could crimp the vicious illness.

Fujifilm's expansion from pictures to pills through its health care subsidiary, Toyama Chemical, is a business move being echoed by other giants of Japanese manufacturing, including Sony, Panasonic and Toshiba.

Fierce competition from lower-cost rivals, a shrinking domestic market and products that no longer immediately dominate the world is nudging them into new spheres.

“We are currently developing our medical activity to create a comprehensive service that covers everything, from diagnostic prevention to treatment,” said Shigetaka Komori, CEO of Fujifilm, in a presentation on the firm's website.

It's not all about fighting disease, however — Fujifilm also makes anti-ageing face creams under the brand Astalift, which is found alongside traditional names in the business.

“We are adding a variety of medicines, dietary supplements and cosmetics to the radiography film and equipment and mammography apparatus already in our collection,” said Komori.

Fellow high-tech titan Sony has also leveraged its expertise to meet demand in medical science, incorporating technology usually found in Blu-Ray disk readers into the design of a new cell analysis device used in cancer and stemcell research.

The switch in focus is part of an effort by company president, Kazuo Hirai, to “make medicine a central part of the group's development” as he looks to stem losses that have left Sony in the red for five of the last six years.

Rival Panasonic, whose profits are making a wobbly recovery from combined losses topping US$15 billion in the previous two fiscal years, has also tried its hand at medical machinery.

One of its brainchildren is a robot named “HOSPI” which transports medicine from one place to another at a hospital in Osaka.

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