ZURICH The World Health Organization has asked Roche Holding AG to deploy its so-called rapid response stockpiles of antiviral drug Tamiflu, the Swiss drugmaker said on Saturday.
"The stockpile is being deployed to countries in need at the discretion of the WHO," Roche said in a statement.
The stockpile includes the 2 million treatment courses held by the WHO and the 3 million treatment courses held by Roche as part of their rapid response stockpile.
The WHO said on Saturday there had not yet been a sustained spread of H1N1 flu outside North America but a pandemic was still "imminent."
Roche, which is working closely with governments to supply orders of Tamiflu, said it was increasing production to meet rising demand.
"Over the past week, Roche has been ramping up Tamiflu output at multiple points in the supply chain. Production ramp-up will continue over time resulting in a continuous and increasing flow of Tamiflu," Roche said.
Pharmacies across north America are struggling to keep up with demand for antiviral medications due to anxious patients rushing to fill prescriptions, making supply shortages for those who really need treatment more likely.
On Friday, GlaxoSmithKline, the world's second largest drugmaker, said it was also increasing production of its inhaled flu drug Relenza and was preparing to start manufacturing a pandemic vaccine.
Tamiflu and Relenza are the only two approved drugs to which the new H1N1 strain of flu has been found to be susceptible.
Mexican health authorities have revised down their suspected death toll from H1N1 to 101 from as many as 176, after receiving negative lab test results. This raised hopes the outbreak may not be as serious as first feared.
(For more Reuters swine flu coverage, please click here: here)
(Reporting by Katie Reid)