Bush outlines $7.1-billion bird flu plan

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President Bush said he will take a $7.1-billion national avian flu strategy to Congress that includes stockpiling antiviral drugs like Tamiflu and Relenza and passing liability protection for vaccine makers.
Bush sketched out the plan today at a press conference at the National Institutes of Health, saying he wants to stockpile $1 billion worth of antiviral drugs to help treat first responders and populations at early risk from a possible pandemic. Antiviral medicines like Tamiflu, from Roche, and Relenza, from GlaxoSmithKline, are designed to reduce the severity of the illness.
Following Bush's remarks, Roche said it is prepared to supply the national stockpile and will work with the Department of Health and Human Services to coordinate a delivery schedule based on the number of treatments ordered.
While there is no evidence that one is imminent, Bush said, "Most agree: at some point, we are likely to face another pandemic."
He also said the U.S. needs to facilitate domestic national vaccine production-- Sanofi Pasteur, in Swiftwater, Pa., is the only U.S. manufacturer capable of producing influenza vaccine.
The number of vaccine manufacturers has plummeted as the industry has been barraged by lawsuits, the president said, adding that removing the burden of litigation will help to strengthen the industry.
Preparation efforts also include asking Congress to authorize $1.2 billion so that the government can stockpile enough doses of a vaccine based on the current strain of avian flu virus to vaccinate 20 million people. "While not a perfect match," that would provide a first wave of protection against a possible influenza pandemic, Bush said.
NIH researchers have developed a vaccine based on the strain, and it is in clinical trials, he noted.
The $7-billion package also includes $2.8 billion to accelerate development of cell-culture technology, intended to enable production of enough vaccine for every American within six months of the start of a pandemic, and $583 million for state and local officials to develop pandemic emergency plans.
Another $251 million would help foreign countries participating in an international disease surveillance partnership to train personnel and enhance other plans. The partnership, announced by the president in September, aims to detect and respond quickly to any disease outbreak. Eighty-eight countries have signed on so far, pledging to immediately share information and provide samples to the World Health Organization if they face an outbreak.
The influenza virus known as H5N1, or avian flu, is spreading through bird populations across Asia, Europe and Canada, has infected human beings, and has produced a fatal illness in humans. But it has not yet acquired the ability to spread easily from human to human.
In related news, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld will continue to recuse himself from some decisions involving possible treatments for bird flu, since he holds stock in Gilead Sciences, the company that invented Tamiflu, the Associated Press reported.
Specifically, he will not take part in development and acquisition by the government of vaccines and treatments for bird flu, according to the AP.
Rumsfeld has long had a financial interest in Gilead. Federal financial disclosures filed by Rumsfeld show his stake is valued at between $5 million and $25 million, according to a report in Fortune.
In the past six months, fears of a pandemic and the demand for Tamiflu have sent Gilead's stock from $35 to $47, netting the Pentagon chief at least $1 million.
After developing Tamiflu, Gilead sold marketing and manufacturing rights to Roche, and it receives a royalty from Roche of about 10 percent of sales, notes Fortune.
Rumsfeld disclosed the financial tie in 2001, recusing himself from any decisions affecting Gilead when he left Gilead's board to join the Bush administration.
But late last month, Rumsfeld had the Pentagon's general counsel outline what he could and could not get involved in if there were an avian flu epide
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