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Roche, Aspen sign deal to boost Tamiflu output
  2006-05-16 10:00:03 -0400
ZURICH (Reuters) - Swiss drug firm Roche said on Tuesday it had reached a deal with Africa's top generic drugs firm Aspen Pharmacare to produce a generic version of flu treatment oseltamivir, also known as Tamiflu.
The deal will speed up production and increase the availability of oseltamivir as governments rush to prepare for the possibility of a pandemic outbreak of avian influenza, Roche said.
"The agreement with Aspen is focused on providing oseltamivir for pandemic use to further help to address the needs of governments and other not-for-profit organisations in the African sub-continent," Roche said.
As part of the deal, Roche will provide API -- the active pharmaceutical ingredient used in oseltamivir production -- to Aspen. No financial details were released. Roche declined to comment on earnings implications.
Roche told Reuters earlier this month it was in talks to grant sublicences for African production of Tamiflu, a key element in health authorities' first line of defence against bird flu, after already granting sublicences in India and China.
Roche said it had received orders and letters of intent for Tamiflu from over 75 governments worldwide for pandemic stockpiling and was fulfilling them according to schedule and would meet all orders from African governments by 2007.
Activists who put pressure on drugs companies to make AIDS treatments accessible in Africa called last year for Roche to grant African manufacturers access to its know-how on Tamiflu, to ensure cheap supplies of the drug on the continent.
In April, Roche handed over 3 million courses of bird flu treatment Tamiflu to the World Health Organization to be deployed in the event of a pandemic.
The donation of the treatment is part of Roche's efforts to help the world health body prepare developing countries for a potential global human epidemic of the virulent H5N1 strain of influenza.
Since re-emerging in Asia in late 2003, the H5N1 avian influenza virus has spread to more than 40 countries. It mainly infects birds but has affected 208 people and killed 115 of them.
Although it is predominantly a bird disease, experts fear it could mutate into a form that transmits easily among people and trigger a pandemic.
Roche shares were near flat at 192.60 francs at 0731 GMT.
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