Friday, December 23, 2005

Viral Marketing?

I wrote in Magill recently about Ireland's preparations for dealing with an outbreak of the Asian bird 'flu. The FT reports Thursday that some patients suffering from bird 'flu appear to not respond to treatment with Tamiflu, the antiviral drug made by Swiss firm Roche that the Irish government is frantically stockpiling. The virus, doctors conclude, may have already developed resistance, so that new drugs are needed:
The reports increase suggested levels of resistance to nearly 10 per cent, or three out of the 31 known human cases of H5N1 treated with Tamiflu, which is marketed by Roche of Switzerland.

The study raises new questions about the drug, which more than 50 governments have ordered in significant quantities in recent months to stockpile as a potential prophylactic and treatment in the case of a flu pandemic.

An accompanying article in the journal reinforced calls for alternative approaches to treatment for a pandemic, including the stockpiling of the rival drug zanamivir, or Relenza.

The lesson here for policy seems to be not that breaking pharmaceutical patents can guarantee supplies of the necessary drugs - as the disease looks likely to need a broad spectrum of therapies, including cutting edge biotech products - but that a big diverse pipeline, which we can expect in an industry with secure intellectual property rights and funding allocated by deep, sophisticated financial markets is the key to fighting a pandemic. More here at TCS.