Sunday, December 11, 2005

News - Roche agrees with laboratories to produce extra flu treatment - US senator

Swiss drug giant Roche Pharmaceuticals has made agreements with 15 laboratories in the United States to produce extra quantities of its Tamiflu medicine to counter avian flu, a US senator said Thursday.

Senator Charles Schumer said in a statement that Roche was about to announce the accords, which have been made with Teva Pharmaceuticals, Mylan Laboratories and 13 other firms.

But he said the deal depends on the US government and other countries making firm orders for the extra Tamilflu.

"Roche has made the right decision," Schumer said. "Instead of closely holding their patent rights and production techniques, in the face of a global health risk, they've moved swiftly to partner with multiple companies to dramatically increase production of this potentially life-saving drug."

He urged the US administration and Congress to act quickly to vote money to build a Tamiflu stockpile. The treatment is considered the most effective available to counter the H5N1 avian flu which has killed almost 70 people in Asia since 2003.

Roche holds the exclusive rights to manufacturing Tamiflu, but demand for the drug has risen dramatically because of fears of an avian flu pandemic.

Schumer on Thursday praised Roche for its decision and called on officials in the administration of President George W. Bush to quickly take advantage of the company's offer.

"The administration and Congress must provide funding for those stockpiles immediately now that Roche has stepped up and made significant progress towards increasing Tamiflu production," he said.

Some scientists believe there may have been cases of human-to-human transmission of the virus, in addition to the cases of humans becoming infected after being in close contact with infected poultry.

Meanwhile, in a speech Thursday, the Republican leader of the US Senate, Bill Frist, said there is an urgent need to address the threat of an avian flu pandemic -- even moreso now that the US public appears less panicked about a future global outbreak of the disease.

Frist insisted that the threat of the disease remains undiminished.

"A viral pandemic is no longer a question of if, but it's a question of when," he said.

"In recent weeks, the growing death toll of the avian flu virus and that mounting drumbeat of discussion have placed the virus under the microscope of the public eye," said Frist, who is a medical doctor by training.

"While the story may recede from the cover of Newsweek and the centerfold of Time, I know that a threat that strikes at our very mortality, as this does, must not recede from the backdrop of our public concern," he said. - AFP /dt


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