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Taiwan Defies Roche to Produce Antiviral
Protecting citizens of 'utmost importance' says head of National Health Research Institute
David Kootnikoff (kaspian)     Print Article 
Published 2005-10-24 10:40 (KST)   
Taiwan has declared that it will manufacture the antiviral Tamilflu without the permission of pharmaceutical giant Roche, the drug's Swiss maker.

"The congress and the government in Taiwan has already decided to produce Tamiflu, starting from now," Su Ih-jen, head of the clinical division at the island's National Health Research Institute, told Reuters Oct. 22.

The Taiwanese government had sought permission from Roche to produce the antiviral, but has yet to receive an answer.

"We have tired to our best to negotiate with Roche. It means we have shown our goodwill to Roche... but to protect our people is the utmost important thing," Dr. Su added.

Dr. Wu Cheng-wen, director of the Institute, said, "It took Roche 12 years to develop Tamiflu, but took us only six months."

Tamiflu is believed to ease the symptoms of bird flu and is not a cure.

Taiwan's decision follows major Indian drug company Cipla's announcement on Oct. 13 that it would start making a generic version of Tamiflu regardless of any lawsuits Roche might bring against it.

On Oct. 18, the head of Thailand's department of Disease Control Thawat Suntarjarn stated that it too would bypass Roche. "We are afraid we won't be able to get enough... so we have to produce it ourselves."

Learning From Past Mistakes

In 2003, Taiwan was left reeling from the SARS outbreak. The health minister at the time, Dr. Twu Shiing-jer, resigned after being accused of mounting a slow and disorganized response to the outbreak.

Initially, Taiwan fended off the virus, but eventually it became the world's No. 3 SARS hotspot, reporting 84 deaths and 682 infections between April and July 5, 2003 when the World Health Organization officially crossed it off the list of SARS hotspots. But it trailed far behind Mainland China, which had 348 deaths, and Hong Kong, with 298 deaths.

'Extreme Discrimination'

Taiwan's announcement also follows a more recent decision on Oct. 20 by Roche to allow four generic U.S. based companies -- Teva Pharmaceuticals, Barr Laboratories, Mylan Laboratories and Ranbaxy Laboratories -- to begin making the drug within a month. The announcement followed meetings and threats of legal action from two prominent American lawmakers -- Senators Charles Schumer and Lindsey Graham.

Echoing sentiments from the 2001 South African court challenge when thirty-nine leading pharmaceutical companies tried and failed to prevent the South African government from importing, manufacturing or licensing cheap copies of their patented medicines -- including AIDS drugs -- Roche is now being accused of profiteering and discrimination.

Philippine Health Secretary Francisco Duque led the charges in August at a meeting of regional health ministers and World Health Organization experts in Bangkok, saying, "It's almost bordering on the immoral to have just one drug company to produce a drug that's going to be a big part of the solution."

Representing the Hong Kong medical community Dr. Kwok Ka Ki said on Oct. 22, "When bird flu was affecting Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia Roche refused to bow to pressure to share the production of Tamiflu." He added, "But now that the virus is in Europe -- the fire is burning in their backyard -- they open up production. This is extreme discrimination."
Is an avian flu pandemic an imminent threat?  (2005-10-26 ~ 2005-11-29)
Yes, we're on the brink.
No. It is inevitable, but not anytime soon.
I don't know.
©2005 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter David Kootnikoff

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