Roche's Antiviral Tamiflu May Not be the Only Option for Dealing With the Avian Flu Pandemic

LONDON -- Use of Roche's highly-publicized antiviral drug against influenza, Tamiflu (oseltamivir) may not be the only or best way to control the expected coming 'flu pandemic, according to a new report on the disease published by Informa Healthcare. Vaccination and rapid diagnosis will also have an important role to play, and there is also no guarantee as yet that Tamiflu will prove effective against a pandemic strain, the report says.

National governments are placing multi-billion dollar orders for stockpiles of Roche's Tamiflu. Consumers have been logging on to Internet pharmacies in droves to buy supplies of the drug, even though they could be counterfeit. The UK police force has developed contingency plans for dealing with riots outside pharmacies as people struggle to get hold of it. But are we putting too much faith in Roche's Tamiflu to limit the impact of the impending flu pandemic?

Governments need to take a wider view of the issue and look at diagnostics and preventive therapies if they are truly going to contain the spread of the virus. The report, titled Dealing with the Flu Pandemic reveals that there is indeed a much wider arsenal of products being developed to respond to the growing threat of avian flu, including vaccines, rapid diagnostic tests and additional antiviral treatments.

Are governments right to focus on using Tamiflu? Mass vaccination with existing vaccines could minimize the risk of the avian flu virus mutating and causing a pandemic. However, up to now there has been relatively weak demand for vaccines and drug firms have only produced enough to cover government orders for high risk groups. As a result, we now do not currently have the capacity to produce additional stocks quickly. Given this uncertainty, governments have chosen to build stockpiles of antiviral drugs that can be administered once a pandemic is underway.

However, scientists do not yet know whether Tamiflu is effective against the H5N1 strain. And even if it is, Tamiflu can only cut the duration of illness if is properly administered within 48 hours of its onset.

What are the options? Once a pandemic is in full swing, it is expected that antivirals would be administered to anyone with a confirmed case of viral infection. But as symptoms vary from person to person and no rapid diagnostic tests are available yet, this is not an option.

The risk of the pandemic and the potential $70 million market for this flu season means that a dozen companies, including Quidel, BD Diagnostics and Thermo Biostar, have diagnostics in development and are racing to market a universal test. But even if successful, a test's launch will necessarily be delayed until it is known what the new pandemic strain looks like.

Vaccination against the pandemic strain is another option. Informa Healthcare's Pharmaprojects database lists 48 products currently in development for preventing influenza. Of these, 11 are specifically under development for preventing H5N1. But again, such a vaccine can go into production only after the strain is known.

To be published in December, Dealing with the Flu Pandemic discusses the

products under development and other strategies for dealing with 'flu. Scrip Reports, a division of Informa Healthcare, is a leading business intelligence on the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries. Their reports cover a wide range of issues from strategic management to pharmaceutical research and development.

Source: Scrip Reports