Roche has signed up another contract manufacturer, Aspen Pharmacare, to improve the supply of its influenza drug Tamiflu in Africa.

Aspen, based in South Africa, will produce finished doses of Tamiflu (oseltamivir) using active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) supplied by the Swiss drugmaker. This is the first sub-license to be granted by Roche in Africa, although it has entered into similar arrangements with companies in China and India.

“The agreement with Aspen is focused on providing oseltamivir for pandemic use to further help to address the needs of governments and other not-for-profit organisations in the African sub-continent,” said Roche in a statement.

The company said it remains on track to meet all orders from African governments wishing to lay in supplies of Tamiflu by early 2007. The company has received orders from over 75 governments around the world in a stockpiling effort in preparation of a possible influenza pandemic.

Fears of a pandemic have been heightened by the alarming spread of the H5N1 avian flu virus H5N1, which has decimated bird populations around the globe and also caused more than 140 cases in humans. The concern is that the virus could mutate to allow spread between humans, which could lead to a pandemic with a death toll estimated in the millions worldwide.

“During discussions with governments, it became clear that developing nations were the least prepared in terms of antiviral stockpiling,” said Roche, which has donated more than 5 million doses of Tamiflu to the World Health Organisation, with a ‘rapid response’ stockpile of 3 million treatments intended to contain a pandemic where it starts.

Tamiflu is one of only two approved drugs shown to combat H5N1, and demand for the drug has escalated as a result. Roche plans to hike its annual production capacity to 400 million doses by the end of 2006.