Call to stockpile rival flu drug
September 28, 2005
A CSIRO scientist has urged the federal Government to stockpile the home-grown anti-flu drug Relenza after a documented case of resistance to rival Tamiflu.
Canberra-based Jenny McKimm-Breschkin, who helped develop Relenza, said yesterday both drugs were effective in treating influenza, including bird flu. "But it's generally known that there's a low level of resistance to Relenza," she told The Australian.
Created by Gilead Sciences in the US. Rights now held by Roche Laboratories, of Switzerland.
For the treatment of "uncomplicated influenza in patients one year and older whose flu symptoms have not lasted more than two days".
Comes in capsule form.
Dominates the flu drug market. The US has stockpiles, as does Australia, which donates doses to Indonesia.
Resistance levels of up to 18 per cent.
Can cause nausea and vomiting.
Created by the CSIRO. Rights now held by Biota, of Australia, and GlaxoSmithKline, of Britain.
For the treatment of "uncomplicated illness due to the influenza virus in people seven years and older whose flu symptoms have lasted no more than two days".
Administered through an inhaler.
Has been stockpiled by Germany, with smaller orders from the US, France, Hong Kong and The Netherlands
Evidence of resistance yet to emerge.
Can cause serious breathing problems.
Dr McKimm-Breschkin said Relenza's chemical make-up meant that it had a better resistance profile than Tamiflu. She cited a case of bird flu in Asia documented by the World Health Organisation, where a resistant virus was isolated in a patient treated with Tamiflu.
Canberra this week donated 40,000 courses of Tamiflu to Indonesia. Indonesia is on heightened alert, with more than 30 people in hospital with bird flu symptoms and a death toll that has risen to six.
Although there was a probable case in Thailand last year, Dr McKimm-Breschkin said there was still no confirmed case anywhere of human-to-human transmission.
The Government controversially chose Tamiflu ahead of Relenza, without a tender process, when it allocated $124million to build a stockpile of anti-flu drugs in last year's budget.
A Senate committee was told in June last year that details of the order were protected on national security grounds. Health Department deputy secretary Mary Murnane said "people who do not wish us well" could use the information to "identify where they might act".
Relenza was conceived by the CSIRO in conjunction with the Melbourne biotechnology firm Biota Holdings.
Biota shares with CSIRO a 7per cent royalty from sales of Relenza, but the company is embroiled in a Victorian Supreme Court battle with the drug's licensee, British pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline.
It has accused GSK of abandoning Relenza "at birth" and allowing the Roche-marketed Tamiflu to corner the prescription and stockpiling market.
GSK is defending the case, in which Biota is claiming damages in a range of $308-430 million. Since Biota launched its claim in May last year, it has announced several stockpiling deals by GSK with national governments.