Roche chooses partners to help make Tamiflu

The producer of sought after bird flu drug Tamiflu, drug giant Roche, has apparently chosen 12 possible partners to help it churn out enough of the drug.

The Swiss drug company has been strongly criticised for it's secrecy regarding the formula for its avian-flu drug but now says it has signed a sub-licensing agreement with a Chinese company to produce Tamiflu.

The medication is thought at present to be most effective treatment for the H5N1 bird flu virus which has killed 70 people since it swept through Asia in 2003.

Although Roche has not named the 12 firms that might be partners in the effort to up the global production of Tamiflu, it has said the list includes major pharmaceutical companies, generic manufacturers and specialty chemicals producers.

The Swiss pharmaceuticals firm which is apparently expanding its own capacity to produce the drug, has come under fire from critics who said it was reluctant to share its Tamiflu formula or grant permission to others to produce it, in order to meet mounting global demand for the drug.

According to U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, Roche has reached agreements with generic drug makersTeva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. and Mylan Laboratories Inc. as well as 13 other drug producers.

The drug company says the first sub-licensing agreement for the overall production of oseltamivir ( Tamiflu), for pandemic use, has been signed with the Shanghai Pharmaceutical Group in China, and it is also in negotiations for local partnerships in other countries, including India.

As Tamiflu is not protected by patent in Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines, firms are free to begin making their own versions of the drug.

Roche will deliver the drug to Taiwan, Korea and Malaysia as well as Vietnam, where it will be encapsulated locally.

Roche Pharma CEO William Burns says that as yet they have not identified anyone who could significantly speed up the agreed delivery timelines for the first half of 2006, but have been able to identify partners to insure against breakdowns in supply and partners in order to broaden geographic coverage.

Burns says that based on the current orders they have received from governments around the world, their capacity to produce 300 million treatments by 2007 is significantly ahead of demand.

The firm will also donate three million treatments to the World Health Organization (WHO) to stockpile for use as a rapid response in order to contain or slow down a pandemic at its epicentre, should one break out.

Although the virus has led to the culling of millions of birds worldwide at present it remains hard for people to catch, but experts fear it may mutate to become more easily spread from human to human.

Governments around the world are scrambling to stock up on Tamiflu, which was created by California-based Gilead Science based on CSIRO research. Roche says that all government orders for pandemic supplies have met their agreed delivery dates.

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