WASHINGTON – The manufacturer of the leading drug against avian flu said Tuesday it is willing to discuss arrangements for other companies to produce it despite having an exclusive patent.
A spokeswoman for Roche Holding AG, a Swiss-based multinational company, said it might agree to having both governments and companies produce Tamiflu under sub-licensing agreements.
The statement came on the same day that Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., called on Roche to reach agreement within the next month to allow five American companies to manufacture Tamiflu, or face legislation that would strip it of the patent. Schumer and others have criticized the pace of the company’s efforts to supply the fast-growing world demand for its product.
“Roche is putting their own interests ahead of world health,” Schumer said Tuesday. “If they don’t begin to actually license the patent for Tamiflu to dramatically increase worldwide production, I am going to pursue a legislative remedy a month from today.”
Officials at the World Health Organization have also indicated growing concern over the lagging supply of Tamiflu and have referred to the right of nations under international trade treaties to break patents during health emergencies.
Also Tuesday, European foreign ministers declared avian flu a global threat after the virus was discovered in migrating water fowl in Greece, Romania and Turkey. The especially dangerous flu has been spreading through birds in Asia since 2003, and has infected 117 people and killed 60 of them. Health experts fear the virus, which until now has mostly passed directly from birds to humans, could evolve in ways that would allow it to pass easily from human to human, setting the stage for a pandemic.
Roche officials said the company plans to sharply increase production of Tamiflu worldwide and had received approval to build a new Tamiflu manufacturing plant in the United States. They also said Roche is willing to discuss granting sub-licenses to any government or private company interested in manufacturing Tamiflu or collaborating in its production. In the past, Roche had said that making Tamiflu is a complex process that would take generic drug makers at least two or three years to master.