Daily Dose of Tamiflu Prevents Flu
The FDA announced yesterday that Tamiflu, a prescription flu therapy, can prevent the flu among those ages 13 and older when taken once daily during an outbreak of the virus, the AP/New York Times reports. However, the FDA emphasized that people should not choose this option over the traditional flu vaccine. "Our message is still that vaccination is the number one preventive method against influenza," Dr. Debra Birnkrant, the FDA's acting antiretroviral drug director, said. Moreover, the vaccine is the cost-effective choice, as a flu shot costs less than $20, while a 10-day supply of Tamiflu costs $49 wholesale (AP/New York Times, 11/21). The recommended dose of Tamiflu for flu prevention is one pill a day for seven days when a family member comes down with the virus, and once a day for up to 42 days for flu prevention in a nursing home setting. In clinical trials, the FDA found that among elderly nursing home residents who took the recommended dose of Tamiflu for prevention, fewer than one-half of 1% of the patients developed influenza, while 4.4% of those taking a placebo came down with it. In a separate study conducted among "members of a household in which somebody had already come down with the flu," 1% on the Tamiflu prevention regimen developed the flu, while 12% on the placebo eventually got the flu (Adams, Wall Street Journal, 11/21).
The news about Tamiflu's prevention capability comes as "Americans are becoming increasingly anxious" about this year's delayed flu vaccine supply (AP/New York Times, 11/21). In most years, flu shots are "widely available" in October, but this year most of the vaccine was not available until November. With the current vaccine shortage, Tamiflu's breakthrough as a prevention method could bode well for the drug's manufacturer, Hoffman-La Roche. The Wall Street Journal reports the drug company "only sold about $50 million" worth of Tamiflu last year, despite the drug's "large" share of the flu treatment market. Drug industry analyst Hemant Shah explained that "[t]he real market is the prevention market," which might indicate that Tamiflu's sales could now take an upward swing. But Shah said Hoffman should not expect a huge sales boost this year, even with the delayed flu supply, because the drug's approval for prevention purposes is "too late." Shah added, "in the future, if we have a similar [vaccine shortage], then yes, any vaccine shortage would have a positive impact on Tamiflu." He estimated that Tamiflu sales in the next few years could soar to "$200 million to $400 million," and the potential in future years "could well exceed that" (Wall Street Journal, 11/21). Meanwhile, Glaxo Wellcome is waiting for FDA approval to market its own flu treatment, Relenza, as a prevention method (Hostetler, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 11/21).