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Roche Grants First Tamiflu License

Drugmaker also identifies 12 firms that may aid in production

by Jean-François Tremblay
December 15, 2005

Roche has granted a sublicense to Shanghai Pharmaceutical, a state-owned company that is part of the China Worldbest Group, to produce the antiviral Tamiflu in the event of an avian flu pandemic. Roche says it will also proceed with detailed negotiations with 12 other companies that may play an unspecified role in improving the availability of Tamiflu.

But the Swiss company insists that it remains best able to supply global demand as its present capacity of 300 million treatments per year allows it to supply more than the orders it has received for 2006. "As yet, we have not identified anyone who could significantly speed up the agreed delivery timelines for the first half of 2006, but we have been able to identify partners to ensure against breakdowns in supply and partners to broaden geographic coverage," says William M. Burns, head of Roche's pharmaceutical division.

Other companies that are attempting to produce Tamiflu have faced difficulties in sourcing its key raw material, shikimic acid, which is extracted from Chinese star anis and is in short supply. Roche has a process to obtain shikimic acid by fermentation, but it does not say whether it will share the technology with licensees (C&EN, Aug. 29, page 22).

Tamiflu and GlaxoSmithKline's drug Relenza are the only known pharmaceuticals that may be effective in treating bird flu.


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