Switzerland’s Roche says that it is going to reduce production of Tamiflu because supply has surpassed demand for the firm’s flu treatment.

William Burns, head of Roche Pharma, said that manufacturing expansion has been such that the company, together with its 19 external partners, now have the ability to produce more than 400 million courses of Tamiflu (oseltamivir) a year. To date, it has had orders from governments amounting to about 215 million treatments “and unless the demand picks up Roche will be tailoring its production schedule accordingly,” he noted, adding that these measures include “maintaining a buffer stock at all times while remaining in close contact with our manufacturing partners to respond speedily to a surge in demand."

Sales of Tamiflu leapt 47% to 865 million Swiss francs in the first quarter but orders from governments around the world, who have been stockpiling the drug to prepare for H5N1 bird flu strain have slowed. Roche also announced several new research initiatives to further study the drug against the H5N1 virus.

These research initiatives include preclinical virology studies, looking at different H5N1 strains to optimise the dose of Tamiflu and an avian influenza registry study, to collect available clinical and virological data, to characterize the virus and the use of Tamiflu, plus post-exposure prophylaxis case studies.

WHO to co-ordinate bird flu vaccine in poor countries

Meantime, the World Health Organization has announced plans to donate millions of dollars to help developing countries set up their own influenza vaccine production in preparation for a possible avian flu pandemic.

The programme will provide funds for six nations to establish capacity to manufacture influenza vaccine. India, Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Thailand and Vietnam will each get up to $2.5 million from an $18 million fund provided by the Japanese government and the US Department of Health and Human Services.