A government panel in Taiwan has decided that the anti bird flu drug Tamiflu can be produced there without permission from the Swiss drug maker Roche AG, if supplies of the medicine run out.
According to the Intellectual Property Office the production of the drug under a "compulsory license" would be permitted.
This move comes despite reassurances from Roche that it could deliver enough of the drug to cover a government-set target of 10 percent of the population.
The government office says that should the Tamiflu purchased by the Department of Health from Roche not be sufficent enough to prevent an epidemic, the compulsory measure to manufacture the drug would be used.
It seems that under compulsory licensing laws countries facing an epidemic are allowed to produce patent-protected drugs.
The decision was reached following the second meeting of a 7-member panel with representatives from Roche and the Department of Health.
Roche is apparently surprised by the announcement and say that a global increase in production since 2004 means there would be enough of the drug to safeguard Taiwan's people in the event of a pandemic.
The company says that a fallback on compulsory license will be unnecessary as agreed delivery timelines will be met.
The Taiwanese government says that the measure will be effective until the end of 2007 and the drugs produced would be for domestic use only.
It hopes to negotiate with Roche as regards compensation.
Tamiflu, which is believed to be one of the best defences at present against bird flu in humans, is being stockpiled by governments around the world as a precaution against a possible outbreak, and this has caused panic in some countries who are concerned that supplies will be exhausted.
Taiwan has said it plans to make its own Tamiflu for 200,000 people in December, and aims to have enough stock to cover 10 percent of the island's 23 million people.
Apparently government researchers have successfully duplicated 20 grams of Tamiflu, and say it is ready for mass production if necessary.
The government would enlist two local drug makers, Yung Zip and ScinoPharm, to make the drug.
Taiwan has so far been spared a serious outbreak of the H5N1 virus lethal to humans, but authorities found rare birds infected with the strain in a container smuggled from China in October, the island's first case since late 2003.
Almost 70 people in Asia are known to have been killed by the H5N1 virus and there is wide concern amongst experts that the virus will acquire the ability to mutate into a form that can transfer from person to person, sparking a worldwide pandemic.