Roche and GlaxoSmithKline are collaborating with governments and health authorities to ensure availability of their antivirals as the impact of the swine influenza outbreak grips the world.

The emergence of a new influenza A (H1N1) strain has caused alarm worldwide. Cases of swine flu have been reported in the UK, Spain, France, Germany, Canada and France, as well as the USA and most strikingly Mexico, where 160 deaths have already been reported. At 11.30 this morning, newswires have reported that the virus has resulted in the death of a 23-month-old child in Texas, the first death outside Mexico

In terms of the pharmaceutical response, Roche and GSK offer the best solution at present with their respective antivirals Tamiflu (oseltamivir) and Relenza (zanamivir). This morning the Swiss major has released a statement saying that it is working closely with the World Health Organisation and governments around the world to make Tamiflu available, noting that the WHO and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say that the treatment is active against this new swine flu virus.

To date, Roche has fulfilled government pandemic orders amounting to 220 million treatment courses of Tamiflu. In addition, it has donated five million packs of Tamiflu to the WHO in 2006, including a three million treatment course ‘rapid response’ stockpile.

The Basel-headquartered firm says that given that WHO has increased the pandemic alert to Phase IV, collaboration with the organisation and governments “is Roche’s current priority”.

GSK noted earlier this week that it has proactively contacted relevant organisations including the WHO, CDC and the government of Mexico – “to understand what support may be required”. The company is also sharing resources with authorities “to gain a better understanding of this new virus”.

Since the start of the outbreak, GSK has supplied at least 100,000 packs of Relenza and 170,000 additional doses of itsseasonal influenza vaccine to the Mexican authorities, at their request. The company added that it is “urgently assessing mechanisms to increase production of Relenza”.

GSK added that it stands ready to initiate discussions with local authorities for the manufacture of a vaccine to help prevent this new influenza strain, once a suitable candidate is available from the WHO.

Unsurprisingly shares in Roche and GSK have risen but not half as dramatically as the stock at Gilead and Biota, discoverers of Tamiflu and Relenza respectively.