Roche says that the UK’s Department of Health is stockpiling 14.6 million doses of its Tamiflu (oseltamivir) antiviral product, in a bid to protect against a potential bird flu pandemic.

The World Health Organisation has recommended countries stockpile antiviral treatments ahead of a potential pandemic, saying it could take six to eight months to develop a new vaccine that is effective against the circulating influenza strain. It said that that supplies of antivirals will be critical to managing an outbreak whilst a vaccine is being developed to prevent the spread of the virus.

In a statement, the Swiss company noted that Tamiflu, which is active against the avian H5N1 strain that is currently circulating in the Far East and has killed over 40 people – has been included as a “critical element” of the plan. The firm said it anticipates that the Department of Health stockpile of Tamiflu will be built up over the next two years.