The Myth Of Tamiflu: Why Is This Drug Still Marketed To Children?

A long, long time ago, I wrote about Tamiflu on this blog, here and here. There were serious issues with this drug, as Japanese parents lobbied to stop it from being prescribed to children. There were several cases of suicides and other mental problems in teenagers who had taken Tamiflu.

It was big news here in 2007, and got the attention even of NHK World:

...on March 20, NHK World reports that Tamiflu side-effects prompt NPO reaction:

Families of people who died from abnormal behavior have asked the government to ban the sale of the antiviral drug Tamiflu. Five groups made the request to the health ministry on Monday. The groups include non-profit organizations studying the harmful effects of drugs, and a group of families whose relatives died after taking Tamiflu. They asked the government to stop the sale of Tamiflu, and to issue a stronger warning on the side effects of the drug.

They also asked the government to remove a professor from a research panel on the drug's side effects. The professor had accepted 10 million yen, or about 85,000 US dollars, in donations from a pharmaceutical firm that sells Tamiflu. They claim the professor did not tell the truth in his report, which said that there is no causal link between the abnormal behavior and the drug.

The ministry is advising people not to leave influenza patients alone for at least 2 days, whether or not the patient has taken Tamiflu. But the 5 organizations say the government's actions are insufficient, and that stricter measures are necessary to prevent future cases.

Now, as I had the opportunity to revisit my notes, I found that in England and the US, serious doubts have been raised about this drug - does it even work? Forbes calls it the "Myth of Tamiflu: 5 Things You Should know." And just a year ago, the UK regulatory agency, NHS, noted, "Doubts cast over whether anti-flu drug Tamiflu works."

“Tamiflu maker accused of secrecy over trial data,” reported The Independent today, while The Daily Telegraph said that scientists have challenged Roche, the manufacturer of the antiviral, to “prove Tamiflu works”. While these are disturbing headlines, they do not necessarily mean that the drug is ineffective or even harmful, as some newspapers seem to imply.
These headlines have come about following the publication of a systematic review into the effectiveness of Tamiflu (oseltamivir) and Relenza (zanamivir) in preventing and treating flu in adults and children. These drugs are from a group called neuraminidase inhibitors (NIs), which are thought to help reduce symptoms of flu. However, the evidence behind their effectiveness is a source of continued debate.
This story is particularly important because the UK government has spent millions of pounds stockpiling Tamiflu to protect against the threat of a potential flu pandemic, as have many other countries.
The review of Relenza was postponed due to new information about how the drug affected individual patients being made available by the manufacturer (GlaxoSmithKline). The results of this are eagerly awaited. The review on Tamiflu was incomplete because of difficulties obtaining sufficiently detailed information from the manufacturer (Roche).

What happened a year ago should have sent alarm bells ringing. The study was carried out by researchers from The Cochrane Collaboration and was funded by a grant from the National Institute for Health Research UK. So, why are medical doctors and hospitals in Japan still prescribing a drug that may not work, and may have serious side effects, especially for children and young adults?

One clue may be the person who was a board member and then chairman of Gilead, the California-based biotech company that discovered that star anise, a natural compound from China, may have antiviral effects (or not). Donald Rumsfeld was in charge until he was appointed Defense Secretary by President Bush, in January 2001. He had previous experience at GD Searle, another controversial US drug company, that was bought up by Monsanto...

In November 2005, George W. Bush urged Congress to pass $7.1 billion in emergency funding to prepare for the possible bird flu pandemic, of which $1 billion is solely dedicated to the purchase, and distribution of Tamiflu. No doubt Mr. Rumsfeld made a lot of money as share prices in Gilead went up and up...

Gilead has the patents that matter.

Plus, if you wonder why the US government is trying to get other countries to do the same, in addition to push drug patents to abide by US standards, then you have the answer. Do I need to mention TPP? We don't even have the right to know what is being negotiated, it is all kept secret. The very people who run the US government are involved in a rather-not-so-subtle racket.

More links:

Links to the science:

Jefferson T, Jones MA, Doshi P et al. Review: Neuraminidase inhibitors for preventing and treating influenza in healthy adults and children (PDF, 1.6Mb). The Cochrane Collaboration. Published online 2012.

Further reading:

Pharma company hid vital data on Tamiflu, scientists claim. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism. January 12, 2012
Cohen D. Flu drugs: The search for evidence goes on. BMJ, Published online January 17 2012.


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