A spokesman for Swiss drugmaker Roche has confirmed the group’s temporary suspension of shipments of its antiviral drug Tamiflu (oseltamivir) to the USA, after an unusually high number of prescriptions has sparked fears that consumers and firms are hoarding the product to prepare for a potential flu pandemic.

The decision follows similar moves in Canada [[26/10/05f]] and other countries such as Germany and Switzerland, in an attempt to help prevent severe shortages of the drug if a pandemic occurs. Governments are already heavily stockpiling the agent, but as its manufacture involves long and extremely complicated processes, many fear that it could take years to produce sufficient quantities if faced with a pandemic as is feared.

To this end, Roche is ramping-up in-house manufacturing of the agent, with plans to boost capacity 8 to 10-fold [[13/10/05b]], but the firm has also bowed to international pressure by agreeing to outsource additional production to third parties in order to bulk up stockpiles [[21/10/05a]].

UK drug giant GlaxoSmithKline is walking a similar path, announcing yesterday in its third-quarter financial results presentation that it plans to boost output of its inhaled flu drug Relenza (zanamivir) to meet burgeoning demand for the drug under global pandemic preparedness plans. The company is offering free licenses to potential partners with sufficient production capacity, and is also assessing alternative delivery mechanisms for the agent. In addition, GSK is hoping to file for flu prophylaxis Relenza with US and European regulators later this year.