November 10, 2005

Vietnam is to become the first country to produce Roche's anti-flu treatment Tamiflu under license. Under the agreement, Vietnam will start manufacturing generic versions of Tamiflu early next year. The drug is considered to be the most effective treatment in the event of an avian flu pandemic, which experts claim is inevitable.

Roche recently announced that it would allow other firms to produce Tamiflu in order to ensure that there is a sufficient supply of the drug. According to local reports, the company will select the Vietnamese manufacturers and will also supply the country with a further 25mn capsules of Tamiflu — enough to treat 2.5mn people.

Of the 63 deaths that have occurred since the H5N1 virus was first discovered in 2003, 42 have been in Vietnam. Before the latest deal was struck, the country had only 600,000 capsules of Tamiflu, which had been donated by Taiwan. Industry observers claim that Vietnam has the capacity to produce 20mn doses of the drug a year.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has been encouraging countries to stockpile Tamiflu. A recent study by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) reports that a bird flu pandemic could result in millions of deaths in Asia and cost the region tens of billions of dollars, sparking a global recession.