Swiss company to build plant to produce drugs against bird flu

Swiss pharmaceutical company Roche Holding AG said Tuesday it is building a new plant in the United States to boost production of its Tamiflu drug amid fears about bird flu, and is ready to seek help from other companies to meet surging demand.

Orders for the antiviral drug have soared as health experts have been pinning their hopes on Tamiflu in case the bird flu that has spread from Asia to southeast Europe mutates so that it could pass easily between people. While there is no human vaccine for the spreading strain of bird flu, scientists believe Tamiflu may help humans fight a mutated virus.

Roche, the sole manufacturer of Tamiflu, has ruled out relinquishing the patent on the drug, which is protected until 2016. But it also has said it was seeking other companies to help speed up its production due to the increased demand.

"For Tamiflu, the key need today is the rapid expansion of production capacity," said William M. Burns, chief executive of Roche's pharmaceuticals division. "In addition, we are prepared to discuss all available options, including granting sub-licenses, with any government or private company who approach us to manufacture Tamiflu or collaborate with us in its manufacturing."

Roche said it could go ahead with its plans to expand production in the United States because it had received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the new plant, which it said would be one of more than a dozen production facilities worldwide. It did not disclose the location of the new manufacturing site, the AP reports.

By the middle of next year, the company says, it will have boosted production tenfold in comparison to 2003.

The Indian drug company Cipla Ltd. said Tuesday it would ask for permission to produce the drug. "We will approach Roche for a license," Amar Lulla, joint managing director of Cipla, told Dow Jones Newswires.

Cipla said last week that it planned to bring a generic version of Tamiflu to market early next year based on its own research into the antiviral oseltamivir.

Daniel Piller, a Roche spokesman, said the company had yet to receive any notification from Cipla. "If we receive a request, we will be open to discussions," Piller told The Associated Press.

Roche influenza chief David Reddy told Dow Jones Newswires that the company would soon begin talks with an East Asian country that is interested in producing a generic version of Tamiflu under license.


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