Drug Companies Ramp Up Swine Flu Drug Production--May 2009

Jessica A. Smith, Assistant Editor
Published Online: Thursday, May 7, 2009
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Whereas few shortages have been reported thus far, the FDA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are warning the country about possible “spot shortages” of antiviral drugs to combat the novel influenza virus H1N1 known as swine flu. Tamiflu (osteltamivir phosphate) and Relenza (zanamivir), the 2 drugs approved to treat the condition, are expected to be in short supply if the virus continues to spread.

The Strategic National Stockpile is the federal government’s answer to drug shortages that arise during public health emergencies, and this is no exception. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, the Strategic National Stockpile includes hearty supplies of antiviral drugs that are being released to health officials as necessary. The supplies are being replenished as they are doled out, and so far about 25% of the stockpile has been released.

Makers of the 2 drugs in question have ramped up production in order to avoid shortages. Roche, the maker of Tamiflu, has increased manufacture of the drug at the request of the World Health Organization. GlaxoSmithKline has upped its production of Relenza, its inhaled flu drug. The company also is working on producing a vaccine for the H1N1 virus. Both Tamiflu and Relenza are being deployed to countries all over the world to fight what is on the brink of being deemed a pandemic.

In the meantime, chain drugstores are making moves to ensure that their stock is not depleted by the demand. CVS reportedly ordered additional doses of Tamiflu for stores in New York City, where the first confirmed US cases of swine flu were found, at the St. Francis Preparatory School in Queens. Walgreen’s stated on its Web site that it is prepared for increased demand for the antiviral drugs.

The demand has already spiked to nearly 9 times higher than normal for this time of year for not only Tamiflu and Relenza, but also for other types of antivirals that do not work against H1N1, according to a Reuters report.

Panic surrounding the outbreak also has caused skyrocketing sales of face masks, hand sanitizers, and other products thought to help protect from the epidemic.

For related articles on the swine flu, see:

Swine Flu Fright: A Personal Report from a Pharmacy Near Ground Zero of the Outbreak

CDC Recommends Two Antivirals for Swine Flu

For other articles in this issue, see:

New Labels Coming for OTC Painkillers

Medication Errors Cut with Pharmacist Intervention

On the Horizon--Performance-Based Contracts for Drugs?



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