Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature Flu Drugs

Search for evidence goes on

BMJ 2012; 344 doi: (Published 17 January 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e458
  1. Deborah Cohen, investigations editor
  1. 1 BMJ, London WC1H 9JR, UK
  1. dcohen{at}

Oseltamivir (Tamiflu) is a multibillion pound success for the Swiss drug manufacturer Roche, with profits rocketing during the pandemic influenza of 2010. In the UK, general practitioners can now prescribe it to anyone with flu and the drug is the mainstay of influenza treatment in critical care. But how has this happened to a drug whose effectiveness is not backed up by publicly available evidence and whose manufacturer has broken successive pledges to make full study reports available? As a new Cochrane Collaboration meta-analysis is published, Deborah Cohen investigates

Researchers working on the latest Cochrane Collaboration meta-analysis of the evidence on oseltamivir (Tamiflu) have claimed that the drug’s manufacturer is still denying them access to full trial data. This is despite Roche, the Swiss company behind oseltamivir, pledging in the BMJ two years ago that it would make “full study reports” available.1 As a consequence, confusion still surrounds the evidence on oseltamivir and guidance on how doctors should prescribe it.

The latest Cochrane review on oseltamivir, a drug on which governments around the world have spent billions of pounds, is published today (18 January). But the Cochrane reviewers have received only part of the clinical study reports—the summary of the study methods and the results. The company says this is enough for the Cochrane group to conduct their review, but Cochrane denies this.

Meanwhile, GlaxoSmithKline—the makers of the less popular antiviral drug zanamivir (Relenza)—have offered individual patient data. When the BMJ asked Roche why it was refusing to make its data available, despite GSK’s promises, it said it refused to answer until it had had the chance to see the full Cochrane review.

Clinicians can be forgiven for being confused about what the evidence on oseltamivir says. Last September, the UK Department of Health announced that in the event …

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