Pill combos may stretch supply of antivirals

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Philadelphia-based Hemispherx Biopharma says its experimental drug Ampligen, when mixed with Tamiflu, could help ease the shortage of the Roche antiviral, CNN/Money reports.
Hemispherx chief executive William Carter told CNN/Money that creating an Ampligen-Tamiflu blend could either triple the strength of Tamiflu to a single patient, or give three times as many patients access to the antiviral without losing potency.
Ampligen (dsRNA) has not been clinically tested to help combat avian flu but recently completed Phase III testing in patients with chronic fatigue syndrome.
The report comes as global demand for Tamiflu is far outstripping supply and as anxiety over a potential bird flu pandemic mounts.
Hemispherx's Carter is not the only one who believes he has found a way to stretch existing antiviral supply.
Experts said probenecid, a generic pill for treating gout, also may increase the strength of Tamiflu if they are taken together.
Tuesday the journal Nature reported that, in a 2002 study, Roche scientists showed that Tamiflu concentrations in patients' blood were far higher when combined with probenecid. The higher concentrations came because probenecid blocks the excretion of Tamiflu's active ingredient in urine, The Wall Street Journal reported.
While health officials cautioned that more study is needed before any recommendations can be made based on the data, some doctors have said probenecid could help cut the cost of stockpiling Tamiflu.
Tuesday President Bush said he would ask Congress for $7.1 billion to prepare for a possible bird flu pandemic, including $1.2 billion to buy enough vaccine for 20 million people and $1 billion to stockpile antivirals like Tamiflu and GlaxoSmithKline's Relenza.
And Wednesday his administration presented its plan for dealing with an outbreak, including  steps to contain the illness before it reaches America, plus specific steps for local health officials to take in the event of a pandemic.
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