Governments cannot calm earthquakes, bottle up volcanoes, or hold back tsunamis—they may not even be able to put out wildfires—but one disaster they do claim to have power over is a flu epidemic. Since the first pandemic scare of this century, H5N1 avian influenza in 2004 (see timeline, box 1), governments have been stockpiling the neuraminidase inhibitors zanamivir (Relenza) and especially oseltamivir (Tamiflu), in vast quantities.
The UK, the US, and many other countries hold enough stocks of these antivirals to offer courses of treatment to a quarter of their population. The practice is almost ubiquitous in rich countries. Of 28 European states that have published a pandemic response plan, all but one (Poland) make oseltamivir the mainstay of their response until a vaccine can be developed.
In the public mind, and the minds of politicians, the flu pandemic problem is one that has been dealt with and prepared for, at least to the best of our ability. This happy state of reassurance has been almost completely unperturbed by the actual state of the evidence on oseltamivir, much of which evaporated on close inspection by a Cochrane review team six years ago.”
The original rationale for pandemic use was that randomised controlled trials showed oseltamivir reduced complications. When we showed that wasn’t true, they turned to observational studies that found reduced complications, but they don’t mention other observational studies showing the opposite, and they don’t mention that the observational studies they rely on were funded by Roche.”…
Donald Rumsfeld’s controversial links to drug company behind Tamiflu
The drug company behind the swine flu medicine Tamiflu is at the centre of controversy over its links to former US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
Mr Rumsfeld, a former chairman of the company, has refused to comment on whether he still holds shares in Californian firm Gilead Sciences, which developed the drug now being desperately stockpiled by governments around the world to combat the threatened pandemic.
Last night an associate of Mr Rumsfeld said: ‘He does not publicly discuss his private finances.’
However, should Mr Rumsfeld have held on to shares in the company, he would be a major beneficiary of the surge in the global demand for the drug. The NHS alone has already purchased enough Tamiflu to treat three-quarters of the population in the UK.
Mr Rumsfeld has previously been accused of a potential conflict of interest over his links to Gilead Sciences, which sold the licensing rights for the medicine to Swiss giant Hoffman-La Roche in 1996.
Under the terms of the deal Gilead, headed by Mr Rumsfeld between 1997 and 2001, still receives between 14 and 22 per cent of the income from the wholesale trade in the drug, depending on the volume of sales….
Profitable corruption does not die gracefully.