Vietnam said yesterday it had won permission from a Swiss drug-maker to manufacture Tamiflu, while China looked at waiving patent laws to produce its own version of the bird flu medicine.
Health ministry director Cao Minh Quang said Vietnam could start making Tamiflu, considered the most effective treatment for human bird flu victims, as early as January after an agreement with manufacturer Roche.
"Vietnam will be authorized to produce Tamiflu by Roche, which will help the country acquire sufficient quantities of the medicine in order to face up to a bird flu epidemic," Quang said. "Roche will however choose which Vietnamese companies will be able to produce the drug."
The Swiss firm's officials in Vietnam did not confirm the comments but said "positive" talks with the ministry were ongoing.
Tamiflu, already available and being stockpiled by countries like Australia, Britain, and the US, is not a vaccine but an anti-viral drug that may help limit symptoms and reduce the chances the disease will spread.
Vietnam is by far the worst-affected country with 42 of the 64 confirmed deaths from the deadly H5N1 strain of the virus since 2003. Deaths have also been recorded in Cambodia, Thailand and Indonesia.
Some 120 human cases have been recorded in Asia, compared with millions of cases in birds, but the virus has spread into Russia and Europe with migrating birds in recent months.
To prepare for a possible pandemic in China, where bird flu has appeared in four provinces and regions since late September, health authorities said they might waive patent laws to produce the drug domestically.
"If the epidemic spreads, we will produce our own version of Tamiflu," Wu Jiarui, vice president of the Shanghai Institute of Biological Sciences, told the China Daily yesterday.
Roche holds the sole patent for Tamiflu, but under Chinese law it could be sidestepped in case of a public-health crisis, the paper said.
The Swiss firm refused to comment on the report but said it was in talks with the Shanghai Pharmaceutical Group to manufacture the drug under license.
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