Oct 27, 2005 (CIDRAP News) The drug maker Roche announced yesterday it was suspending shipments of oseltamivir (Tamiflu) to US pharmacies to prevent hoarding that could lead to a shortage of the drug during the winter influenza season.
The company said it was concerned that hoarding by people worried about a flu pandemic could lead to a shortage of the drug for those who will need it for treatment of ordinary seasonal flu.
"At the present time, we do not have an avian influenza pandemic in the United States. However, we need to make sure that people exposed to this year's seasonal flu virus will have access to Tamiflu," said George Abercrombie, president and CEO of Hoffmann-La Roche Inc., Roche's US unit, in a news release.
"Our announcement today will help assure that people who need Tamiflu for this year's seasonal flu will have access to it, while at the same time we move forward to deal with the threat of a worldwide pandemic of avian flu," he said.
The company said the decision was based on the concern that news coverage of avian flu has caused companies and other organizations that don't need oseltamivir yet for this year's flu virus to hoard it.
"We've seen recently some very large purchases at the wholesale level, companies or large entities who are possibly hoarding Tamiflu right now," said Hoffman-La Roche spokeswoman Darien Wilson in Nutley, N.J., as quoted in an Associated Press (AP) report today.
The suspension will not affect the federal government's current stockpiling of oseltamivir for use in a potential flu pandemic, company officials told the AP. "We have agreed orders with governments and we will fulfill them," said Alexander Klauser, a Roche official in Switzerland.
Roche officials in Switzerland, Germany, and Canada already had revealed that they were limiting shipments to pharmacies in those countries in an effort to prevent hoarding, the AP story said.
Verispan, a firm that monitors prescription drug sales, said US sales of oseltamivir last week were four times the level during the same week a year ago, the AP reported. Prescriptions totaled 67,443, versus 17,172 last year.
Meanwhile, Reuters reported that GlaxoSmithKline said it plans to increase production of zanamivir (Relenza), the other antiviral drug that could be of some use against a pandemic flu strain. The company also is offering free licenses to partners to produce the drug, the story said.