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Sunday, November 27, 2005

The China Post

The China PostTaiwan plans to produce anti-bird flu drug when imported stocks run out(Updated 06:16 p.m.)

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP)

Taiwan plans to produce the anti-bird flu drug Tamiflu on its own if it runs out of stocks supplied by Swiss company Roche Holding AG, which holds a patent for the medication, the island's premier said Saturday.

The Intellectual Property Office said late Friday it would notify Roche that Taiwan will use what the World Health Organization calls a "compulsory license" to produce its own Tamiflu if needed.

Under WHO rules, such a license allows for the violation of a drug patent in a medical emergency, as long as the the patent holder is compensated later.

"If there is ever a large-scale outbreak, and our reserves are not enough, then we have agreed we will first use the drugs we already bought," Taiwan's Premier Frank Hsieh told reporters Saturday. "But if they're gone and there's no medicine left, we can't just sit idly by and die."

Roche expressed surprise at Taiwan's announcement.

"Fallback on compulsory license will be unnecessary as agreed delivery timelines will be met by Roche," it said in a statement on its Web site.

The company said it will complete the delivery of 2.3 million Tamiflu courses, enough for 10 percent of Taiwan's population, next year.

Roche and Taiwan have been discussing terms for licensing a Taiwanese company to produce Tamiflu locally, but some fear the negotiations could take a long time.

Taiwan said it will not use the compulsory license if Roche agrees to let a local company make the drug, but did not specify a time frame. The island's government has promised not to export any drugs it makes under the license, Hsieh said.

Roche's statement said no Taiwanese company could produce the drug faster or cheaper than Roche.

Taiwan's first case of the deadly H5N1 bird flu virus strain was confirmed last month in birds smuggled from mainland China. The island has not reported any human infections.

At least 68 people have died from bird flu since it began ravaging poultry across Asia in late 2003. Most human cases have been linked to contact with sick birds, but health officials warn that the virus could mutate into a form that can be easily passed between humans, possibly triggering a global flu pandemic.

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