Roche Introduces Program for Corporate Stockpiling of Tamiflu
Hoffmann-La Roche Inc., the Nutley, N.J.-based maker of Tamiflu®, announced a program on Thursday that it said will allow U.S. businesses to maintain access to their own stockpile of the antiviral drug for use in a pandemic situation, with limited upfront investment and more adaptability to deal with unknown factors inherent in pandemic planning. Under the new plan, Roche said companies can pay a "nominal annual fee" to "reserve" their own stockpile of Tamiflu, which Roche will store and rotate to keep "in date." The contract comes up for renewal annually, at which time companies will have the opportunity to re-evaluate their investment decision. If and when a company decides to take possession of the medicine--for example, if a novel strain of influenza virus begins human-to-human spread--the company can purchase its dedicated product from Roche at the prevailing wholesale price. Roche said it will guarantee delivery within 48 hours in most circumstances, noting that antivirals such as Tamiflu are most effective if taken early, within 48 hours of illness onset.
"This program addresses questions we've heard from executives who are interested in securing Tamiflu for their employees but desire more flexible planning options, especially with regard to timing," said Mike McGuire, vice president of anti-infectives for Roche. "We think this option will present something of a 'tipping point' for some companies, allowing them to create the best possible situation for the health of their business as well as their employees."
Roche notes that businesses can still purchase Tamiflu outright and consider pre-distribution to their employees, which is what some corporations have preferred, but adds that the new program is in keeping with the U.S. government's proposed guidelines for pandemic flu planning. Those guidelines, released on June 3, 2008 and posted for public comment at www.pandemicflu.gov, state: “Private stockpiles, in coordination with public health stockpiles, would extend protection more broadly than could be achieved through the public sector alone and improve the ability to achieve the national pandemic response goals of mitigating disease, suffering, and death, and minimizing impacts on the economy and functioning of society.”
If and when a pandemic strikes, Roche says, antivirals will be a key line of defense until a vaccine can be developed and distributed. According to the government's June 3 guidance, “once the pandemic strain emerges and is identified, based on current technologies, it will take at least 20 weeks [five months] before the first doses of a pandemic vaccine are available … By contrast, antiviral drugs can be stockpiled in advance and therefore be available when a pandemic begins.”
"Experience with seasonal flu has shown that antiviral drugs are an important tool in the arsenal of weapons that could be used to help contain a flu pandemic,” said Health and Human Services Deputy Secretary Tevi Troy. “They may play a critical role in the earliest pandemic stages, by helping contain an early outbreak wherever it occurs, slowing the spread of the disease, and treating those who are ill during later community outbreaks." The Strategic National Stockpile of antiviral medications will cover only 25 percent of the population, Roche notes. Moreover, if antivirals are used preventatively, as the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends, additional supplies would be needed.
Roche said it has increased global production of Tamiflu more than 15-fold and created a complete supply chain on U.S. soil at the request of HHS. The company also has donated more than 5 million treatment courses to the World Health Organization for use as a rapid response at the site of a pandemic outbreak and for its regional stockpiles, and has sponsored a series of pandemic planning workshops for businesses around the country, creating a forum for multi-sector dialogue. Roche has compiled information and tools online at www.pandemictoolkit.com. To date, the company said it has received inquiries from more than 800 U.S.-based companies, large and small in a variety of industries, with Tamiflu orders from more than 300 companies, in quantities ranging from a few hundred to hundreds of thousands of treatment courses. For more information, contact Roche's Pandemic Planning Hotline at 888-394-2838, or e-mail: [email protected].