Roche said today it is raising its production capacity for the influenza drug Tamiflu to 400 million treatments a year, in order to meet burgeoning demand for the drug as fears rise that a flu pandemic could be around the corner.

The latest hike in Tamiflu (oseltamivir) production – adding 100 million courses a year to earlier targets – will be achieved through outsourcing manufacturing of the drug to third parties, according to Roche, which said the capacity now places it ahead of demand in the marketplace.

Roche identified its production partners for Tamiflu as Albemarle Corp, Ampac Fine Chemicals, API Corp, Clariant, DSM, FIS, Martek Biosciences, NovaSep/Dynamit Nobel, PHT International, PPG Industries, Sanofi-Aventis, Shaanxi Jiahe Phytochem and Siegfried.

The Swiss company also said it has a number of research programmes underway to improve understanding of how Tamiflu can help combat a flu pandemic. These include studies looking at optimal dosing and duration of treatment against different subtypes of the H5N1 bird flu virus that is the hot favourite to cause a pandemic, prophylaxis of healthcare workers and monitoring of viral resistance to Tamiflu.

Rocketing demand for Tamiflu by governments intent on stockpiling the drug helped Roche to a record set of financial results last year. The flu drug brought in 1.6 billion Swiss francs ($1.2bn) last year, around half of which came from government orders.

Roche also said it is in the final stage of negotiations for a sublicense with a company in China, and is looking at ways to enable production in Africa. This is in addition to sub-licenses for the complete production of oseltamivir that were granted to Hetero and Shanghai Pharmaceuticals last year.