Roche will not share Tamiflu patent with generic drug makers
Roche, which acquired rights to Tamiflu from the California biotech Gilead Sciences in 1996, said yesterday through a spokeswoman that the company "fully intends to remain the sole manufacturer of Tamiflu."
But Roche is facing criticism from some over the company's capacity to produce Tamiflu. The concern comes amid heightened fears over the potential of a pandemic avian flu outbreak and the ensuing sudden increase in demand for the antiviral drug.
For example, market researcher Verispan said this week that U.S. prescriptions for Tamiflu hit 34,388 for the week ending Oct. 7, up 713 percent from the same period last year.
Although Roche has reportedly increased production of Tamiflu eightfold in the past two years, it would take $16 billion and 10 years to make enough of the drug for 20 percent of the world's population, according to an estimate from the World Health Organization (WHO).
At least one consumer group has urged that governments intervene and threaten to bypass the Tamiflu in a similar fashion to the way the U.S. and Canadian governments did with Bayer's Cipro patent during the anthrax bioterrorism scare in 2001.
"The WHO should buy stockpiles from generic suppliers," said James Love, director of the Consumer Project on Technology in Washington, D.C. "If patents are in the way, the WHO should ask the manufacturing country to issue the appropriate compulsory licenses. The patent owner will receive royalties, but we will have the stockpiles."