Britain completes stockpile of Tamiflu flu drug

The final consignment of Britain´s Tamiflu drug stockpile will be delivered this week, putting in place a central plank of contingency plans against a future flu pandemic, the Department of Health said on Wednesday.

The drug´s manufacturer Roche said fulfilment of the order for 14.6 million treatment courses was being completed some three months ahead of the original December schedule.

Building up the drug reserves has cost the British government around 200 million pounds ($380 million).

Tamiflu will not prevent a future influenza pandemic but could mitigate its effects, since the antiviral drug reduces the severity of flu and may slow the spread of a pandemic while a specific vaccine is developed.

Health experts fear the H5N1 bird flu virus, which has killed more than 140 people worldwide through contact with infected birds, could mutate into a strain easily transmitted from person to person, triggering a pandemic killing millions.

Governments around the world are taking similar steps to build up Tamiflu reserves and Roche has received pandemic orders from 75 countries, which it plans to meet by mid-2007, providing a significant boost to sales and profits.

To meet the demand, the Swiss group has increased Tamiflu manufacturing capacity tenfold in the past three years and will be able to make 400 million courses annually by the end of this year.