Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Conference on avian flu in Ottawa, 24-25 Oct

Some officials at the opening Oct. 24, 2005 of a two-day conference on battling a potential flu pandemic discussed whether they might have to break international patent regulations to produce generic versions of Tamiflu — one of the only drugs effective against the virus — if it came down to saving their civilians.

The USAToday article erroneously referred to Roche as the patent holder of the patent on Tamiflu: A Taiwan scientist holds a generic version of Tamiflu Friday, though patent-holder Roche has warned against producing it.

"A suggestion that's being made by some countries is that there are countries that have the capacity to manufacture the vaccine, that we actually need to assist them with technology transfers," Canada's Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh told a news conference. He said technology transfers was "a euphemism for loosening the patent laws."

He was referring to India, whose health officials are weighing whether there is enough risk of bird flu spreading in their impoverished nation to invoke a licensing clause to lift Swiss pharmaceutical company Roche's patent of Tamiflu. The drug is one of only two believed to be effective against the H5N1 strain of bird flu, which has already killed more than 60 people in Asia since 2003.

Officials insisted the obsession with Tamiflu must not overshadow preventing the H5N1 strain from mutating into a human strain that could kill millions worldwide.

The USAToday article continued:

On Tuesday, Mexico's health minister Julio Frenk was expected to call on wealthier nations to set aside 10% of their stores of anti-virals for the developing ones.

"Just imagine the ethical, political and security implications of a world where only rich countries have access to lifesaving drugs or vaccines, and the rest of the world stands while they march toward death," Frenk told The Canadian Press. "That is an unsustainable scenario."

World Health Organization Director General Lee Jong-Wook said some countries were suggesting that devoting 5% of their stores was more in line with reality, but conceded some countries likely would horde drugs in the face of a true pandemic.

"In time, when there's a real need for Tamiflu, the basic instinct will be, 'This is for our people,' and it's an unnatural act to share this precious small quantity of medicines with others," Lee said. That is why, he said: "It makes a lot of sense to try and put out the fire out there, rather than waiting for this wave to reach you."

A photograph in the story shows a bottle of "generic" Tamiflu in the hand of a Taiwanese scientist. One sees a cyclohexene ring with substituents -COOEt, -NH2H3PO4, =NHAc. The formula weight appears to be 319.


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