Africa to make bird-flu drugs

Oseltamivir is the antiviral medicine being stockpiled by governments around the world in prepara-tion for a possible influenza pan-demic. Scientists fear that the H5N1 avian flu virus, which has led to the death or destruction of domestic birds in Europe, Asia and Africa, may mutate into an equally dangerous form that is easily transmitted between humans. So far that has not happened, with just more than 200 confirmed human cases recorded by the World Health Organisation since 2003. However, governments and pharmaceutical companies are taking the threat seri-ously. “Avian flu, like Aids, could have a devastating effect,” said Aspen’s head of strategic trade, Stavros Nicolau. In the face of mounting political pressure over its manufacturing backlog, Roche began using external contractors to make oseltamivir, branded as Tamiflu. It also awarded manufacturing licences to the China-based Shanghai Pharmaceutical Company and to Indian firm Hetero Drugs. Aspen was the sole African firm to be awarded a licence to make oseltamivir and Roche was not in talks with other African drug makers, Roche SA CEO Maturin Tchoumi said. The deal would give Aspen access to Roche’s active pharmaceutical ingredients and technical know-how, an arrangement that the companies said would expedite registration with the Medicines Control Council, a pre-requisite for local sales. Nicolau declined to comment on Aspen’s projected sales volumes or price, saying only that Aspen’s Port Elizabeth factory was capable of producing up to 5,5-billion tablets and capsules annually. He told Bloomberg that Aspen would have generic Tamiflu ready for sale to consumers in 12 to 18 months. Tchoumi said that Roche had received Tamiflu orders for pandemic preparedness from about 75 governments for approximately 200-million courses of treatment. ‘ Business Day. Nine African countries, including SA, had placed orders for approximately 8,4 million courses of treatment, which would be fulfilled during this year and next, he said. Aspen’s share price rose 50c or 1,3 percent to close at R39. — Business Day.

May 2006
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