Roche Canada stops distributing oseltamivir

BMJ 2005; 331 doi: (Published 03 November 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;331:1041
  1. David Spurgeon
  1. Quebec

    Canadian federal officials are trying to damp down concern about a possible flu pandemic, after reports of Canadians stockpiling the flu treatment oseltamivir (Tamiflu) prompted Roche Canada to cease distribution of the drug to pharmacies until the flu season begins.

    David Butler-Jones, Canada's chief medical officer of health, said that although the government is stockpiling oseltamivir as a precautionary measure he personally had no intention of buying the drug for his home and that healthy Canadians have no need to lay in supplies. He said he expected that the government would also buy zanamivir (Relenza), another antiviral, and amantadine, an older drug that had not been shown to be effective against human cases of avian flu but that might be useful if the virus changed and becomes readily transmissible between humans.

    Roche Canada recently sent an “urgent” letter to Canadian pharmacies saying it would “prioritise” distribution of oseltamivir when the flu season began to those patients most at risk of developing serious complications.

    Some 4061 prescriptions were written for the drug in September, which compares with 421 in the same month last year. More than 53 000 prescriptions were written for it last February and March. Canadian governments have stockpiled 35 million oseltamivir pills, and some doctors who expect to treat patients with flu have amassed pills.

    At a conference in Ottawa on pandemic preparations, Lee Jong-wook, director general of the World Health Organization, said Roche has agreed to share its licence for oseltamivir with other drug companies.

    Jack Kay, president of Apotex, Canada's largest manufacturer of generic drugs, said the company has started work on a synthetic copy of oseltamivir (Globe and Mail, 26 Oct, sect A: 7).


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