UK health officials threw away £74m of bird flu ‘wonder-drug’

from UK’s Department of Health threw away £74m worth of Tamiflu, the
antiviral drug, before its expiry date, due to unsafe storage
. In total the country has spent £600 million since 2006 on
drugs to fight a flu pandemic that has not materialized.

The figures, revealed by the National Audit Office (NAO),
demonstrate a “shocking example of incompetence”, according
to Public Accounts committee chairwoman Margaret Hodge.

Prompted by several public panics over possible avian flu
pandemics in the mid-2000s, the UK government decided to create a
national stockpile of Tamiflu (produced by Swiss company Roche) and
Relenza (made by London-based GSK) – two relatively new and
supposedly revolutionary drugs that neutralized the flu virus.

Between 2006 and 2013 40 million units of Tamiflu alone were
purchased. A quarter of those had to be written off.

During the pandemic of swine flu (which turned out to be less
deadly than the common variant
) in 2009 and 2010 the Department of
Health panic-bought up huge emergency supplies as governments
competed with each other to secure the dwindling supply.

It did not possess the logistical and storage capacities, and
distributed about 6.5 million units to the NHS. When the demand
failed to appear, these had to be written off, as no one could
guarantee that they had been preserved in appropriate

“There is simply no excuse for this waste,” Hodge told

More importantly, there are growing questions about the efficacy
of the thirty million of the units that were used.

“Although Tamiflu speeds up recovery times, experts do not
agree over its ability to reduce complications and
said Hodge.

Roche had persistently refused to release data on more than a
fraction of (successful) clinical trials of Tamiflu
(generic name
oseltamivir), which has been on the market since 2002, until
leading independent medical research independent research group
Cochrane Collaboration started encouraging governments to sue the
Swiss company. Roche finally relented, and promised to hand its
research data to Cochrane last month.

The Department of Health promised to “consider the
recommendations of the NAO” report, but stood by its anti-flu

“The UK is recognized by the World Health Organization as
being one of the best prepared in the world for a potential flu
pandemic,” said a statement.

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