Vietnam reaches agreement with Swiss manufacturer of Tamiflu

Bird flu-hit Vietnam has reached an agreement with the Swiss manufacturer of the antiviral drug Tamiflu to allow the country to produce the medication starting early next year, a Health Ministry official said Wednesday.

"In talks with Roche representatives yesterday, we have reached an agreement in principle ... to allow Vietnam to produce Tamiflu," said Nguyen Van Thanh, deputy director of the pharmaceutical administration department under the Ministry of Health.

Roche Holding AG will select the Vietnamese pharmaceutical companies that will make the drug locally, with production to start as early as January, Thanh said.

The H5N1 strain of bird flu has killed at least 63 people in Southeast Asia, the majority of them in Vietnam, since late 2003. Several countries, including India and China, have been in talks with Roche about licenses to produce Tamiflu, among the few medications believed to be effective in treating the disease.

Thanh said Roche has also agreed to supply Vietnam with 25 million Tamiflu capsules, enough to treat 2.5 million people.

The first batch of 2 million pills will be available in December, according to a report in Pioneer newspaper. Another 8 million will be provided between January and June of 2006, and a further 15 million from next July to December.

Vietnam is in talks with other international pharmaceutical manufacturers to look for alternatives to Tamiflu, the paper said. Currently, Vietnam has stockpiled 600,000 Tamiflu capsules donated by Taiwan. Those drugs has been distributed to bird flu-infected provinces. Local residents have rushed to buy Tamiflu, which is available in limited supply locally.

The paper said the Health Ministry will announce the retail price for Tamiflu in the next few days and drug stores will be required to sell the medication at the set price.

In recent weeks, the price for the drug has ranged from 450,000 dong (US$28; Ђ23.85) to 1.2 million dong (US$76; Ђ64.75) for one course of 10 capsules, reflecting the spike in demand, reports the AP. I.L.