Thursday, October 20, 2005

Tamiflu Patent Moving to Center Stage

Roche AG, the company that makes Tamiflu, has agreed to meet with Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd., Barr Pharmaceuticals Inc., Mylan Laboratories Inc. and Ranbaxy Laboratories Ltd. to discuss their production of a generic version of the anti-flu medication. (MSNBC: Roche to allow generic versions of Tamiflu). Tamiflu has shown some measure of effectiveness against the H5N1 avian flu virus.

As bird flu fears continue to rise, Roche is increasingly being overwhelmed with orders for the anti-flu drug. While Tamiflu is not a cure for the avian flu, it does lesson the symptoms if taken shortly after they develop. Over 40 nations are now clamoring for the drug as reports of avian flu cases spread across the globe.

There are two main areas of concern, however. The first issue is being raised by researchers that are seeing evidence that the virus is developing a resistance to Tamiflu. Such a mutation would leave us defenseless against the virus as it continues to spread. Drug resistance has long been a problem with the overuse of antibiotics as various bacterial diseases develop strong immunities to treatment. That the avian flu virus may already be developing a resistance to Tamiflu is disturbing news.

The second issue, and one that is of much greater concern, is a report out of Thailand that the virus may be mutating into a human-to-human contagion. Family clusters of flu contraction seemingly indicate that the flu is being passed between family members and not just through exposure to fowl. That is the mutation most feared by researchers since the death-toll from a human-to-human avian flu virus would be measured in the hundreds of millions worldwide.

Given these two recent developments, it would seem that coverage and concern over this flu virus is not overblown. It also seems that, other than mass producing the only known drug to be effective against it, there is not much else that can be done to prevent its spread. Health coordinators world-wide are frantically studying ways to contain the virus, but so far they are coming up empty. This may well be a flu epidemic that must simply have to run its course. In the meantime, one hopes they are researching drugs other than Tamiflu that may prove effective, since it would appear likely that the virus will soon be highly resistant to that treatment.

None of this is good news for this year's flu season. Still, I remain confident that the medical community world-wide is working to capacity trying to find a solution. This issue does appear to be getting the attention it needs, so all we need do now is let the scientific community do their jobs. I have faith in their ability to respond under pressure.


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