Health Officials Should Consider Alternative Treatment in Preparations for Potential Pandemic Avian Flu
Health officials worldwide should consider an antiviral medication manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline as they prepare for a potential pandemic avian flu, according to an article published in the current issue of the Lancet, the Wall Street Journal reports.
In response to warnings about a potential pandemic avian flu, a number of nations have begun to stockpile the antiviral medication Tamiflu, a neuraminidase inhibitor manufactured by Roche Holding that could provide the only effective treatment for avian flu in the absence of a vaccine. However, with orders for Tamiflu expected to exceed $3 billion, experts have raised concerns about whether Roche will have the ability to manufacture the number of doses required in the event of a pandemic avian flu.
In the Lancet article, scientists from Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and South Korea cite the antiviral medication zanamivir -- a neuraminidase inhibitor marketed as Relenza by GSK, which manufactures the treatment under a licensing agreement with Biota Holdings -- as an alternative to Tamiflu. Zanamivir accounts for about 1% of worldwide sales of antiviral flu medications and has "attracted much less attention" than Tamiflu, according to the Journal.
In the article, the scientists write that Relenza has fewer side effects Tamiflu, and viruses are less likely to develop resistance to Relenza. However, according to the Journal, "Unlike Tamiflu, which comes in tablet form, Relenza must be inhaled," which "could complicate large-scale deployments if a pandemic did break out" (Zamiska, Wall Street Journal, 8/12).
"No one should be lulled into a false sense of security by the recent news that researchers have developed a vaccine" against avian flu because nations worldwide remain "ill-prepared to cope" with a potential pandemic avian flu, a Hartford Courant editorial states. According to the editorial, despite "scientists' urgent warnings" about the potential for a pandemic avian flu, "the world community has been distracted by other threats, including terrorism," and the "consequences could be grim if nations wait much longer."
The editorial states, "Decisive action now does not guarantee that a pandemic capable of killing millions of people can be averted, but that's no reason to sit back and wait for a catastrophe to unfold," adding, "Governments, health authorities and pharmaceutical companies must set aside their differences and put the looming health threat at the top of their official agendas" (Hartford Courant, 8/12).
NPR's "Talk of the Nation/Science Friday" on Friday plans to include a discussion with Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at NIH, on progress in the development of an avian flu vaccine (Flatow, "Talk of the Nation/Science Friday," NPR, 8/12). The complete segment will be available online in RealPlayer after the broadcast.This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.