HHS adds Relenza to state stockpile program

Jul 21, 2006 (CIDRAP News) – The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) yesterday announced a contract with GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) that will allow states to add the influenza drug zanamivir (Relenza) to their federally subsidized antiviral stockpiles.

The contract, worth $16,833,000, paves the way for 50 states and 9 other jurisdictions to purchase up to 15.5 million Relenza treatment courses from GSK at a federally negotiated price, with a 25% federal subsidy. HHS has already offered the same subsidy for states to purchase up to 31 million courses of the antiviral oseltamivir (Tamiflu) as part of preparations for a potential influenza pandemic.

HHS's goal is to enlist the states' efforts in building antiviral medication stockpiles so that treatment courses will be available for 25% of the US population. The federal government will purchase 44 million treatment courses for the national stockpile and hopes the states will assist by adding 31 million treatment courses to their individual stockpiles.

"Today's announcement is another example of how we all must share in the responsibility to prepare our nation and its communities to respond to a pandemic flu outbreak," said HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt in a press release.

On Jun 30 HHS announced a contract with Roche to sell up to 31 million treatment courses of Tamiflu to the states at a federally negotiated price. But today's announcement appeared to signal that up to half of the 31 million courses that HHS wants in state stockpiles could be Relenza. HHS officials could not be reached for clarification in time for this story.

Relenza is approved for the treatment of uncomplicated influenza in patients aged 7 years and older, according to the US Food and Drug Administration. The drug is in a powder form that is inhaled from a breath-activated plastic device twice a day for 5 days. Tamiflu is an oral medication that can be administered to patients ages 1 year and older. Both drugs are neuraminidase inhibitors (NIs).

Many experts consider stockpiling NIs an important strategy for limiting the impact of an influenza pandemic. The H5N1 avian influenza virus has been shown to be susceptible in vitro to both drugs, but most governments that are stockpiling antivirals to prepare for a pandemic have ordered Tamiflu.

States have until Aug 1 to indicate if they want to participate in the antiviral medication subsidy program. So far, few states have notified the HHS that they intend to purchase the subsidized medications.

See also:

Jul 20 HHS press release on zanamivir (Relenza) drug purchase

Jul 18 CIDRAP News story "States slow to sign up for Tamiflu subsidy"

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