November 2, 2010 / 9:02 PM / 10 years ago

Study backs Roche's Tamiflu as first option in flu

* Tamiflu alone better than in combination with Relenza

* Study confirms Roche drug should be first option in flu

By Kate Kelland

LONDON, Nov 2 (Reuters) - Swiss drugmaker Roche’s ROG.VX Tamiflu relieves flu symptoms more effectively than a combination of it and GlaxoSmithKline’s (GSK.L) Relenza, and should be first choice for flu patients, scientists said.

French researchers writing in the Public Library of Science (PLoS) Medicine journal said a study of antiviral drugs during the 2008-09 flu season found doctors should be wary of combining the two antivirals and should use Tamiflu as the first treatment option.

Tamiflu, or oseltamivir, which comes as a pill made by Roche under licence from Gilead Sciences (GILD.O), is the drug of choice to fight flu, but some scientists have worried its overuse may prompt flu viruses to develop resistance, and so had suggested a drug combination might reduce this risk.

Relenza is an inhaled drug that works in a similar manner to Tamiflu and is known generically as zanamivir.

Scientists know flu is highly prone to mutation and most strains of the virus have evolved resistance against two older flu drugs, amantadine and rimantadine.

“When we started the trial in 2008, we felt at the time that a flu pandemic might come and there would be wide use of antivirals for influenza,” said Catherine Leport from the University of Paris, France, who led the study.

“It is a common knowledge in infectious disease that when you have wide use of a single or a limited number of drugs, you may promote the emergence of resistant viruses. So a combination could be useful instead,” she said in an interview.

But in results of their study, which involved 541 patients given either Tamiflu alone, Relenza alone, or a combination, Leport’s team found the combination was less effective at fighting flu.

They also found that the clinical effects of the oseltamivir-zanamivir combination on the time it took for symptoms to subside was “not significantly different” from that of using Relenza alone.

“This suggests that, at the least, we should be careful about using this combination,” Leport said.

Tamiflu was widely used all over the world during the H1N1 flu pandemic, which began in early 2009 and was declared over by World Health Organisation (WHO) in August this year. (Editing by Dan Lalor)

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