British MPs criticise millions spent on stockpiling Tamiflu

Secrecy surrounding Tamiflu trials suggest HK$5b may have been misspent, panel finds

PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 January, 2014, 8:46pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 04 January, 2014, 12:33am

British lawmakers yesterday criticised the government for spending £424 million (HK$5.1 billion) to stockpile Roche's medicine Tamiflu, saying doubts about the drug's effectiveness suggested it may not be money well spent.

Parliament's influential Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said that it was "surprised and concerned" to discover that information on methods and results of clinical trials of such prescribed drugs "is routinely withheld".

It said there was a "lack of consensus over how well Tamiflu ... actually works".

"The case for stockpiling antiviral medicines at the current level is based on judgment rather than on evidence of their effectiveness during an influenza pandemic," said Richard Bacon, a leading member of the committee.

He added that as well as spending more than €420 million on stockpiling Tamiflu, an antiviral medicine, the Department of Health was forced to write off £74 million of that as a result of poor record-keeping by the National Health Service.

"Before spending money in future to maintain the stockpile the department needs to review what level of coverage is appropriate," he said.

Tamiflu has been approved by regulators worldwide and is stockpiled by many governments in case of a global flu outbreak. Sales of the drug hit close to US$3 billion in 2009, due to the H1N1 swine flu pandemic, although they have since declined.

But some researchers claim there is little evidence Tamiflu works and have lobbied since 2009 for Swiss drugmaker Roche to hand over all its data from clinical trials of the medicine.

After a long fight, Roche agreed last year that it would hand over the data to outside researchers at the Cochrane Collaboration, a non-profit group that reviews trial data to assess the value of drugs.

The PAC said it was "extremely concerning that there has been a five-year delay and that there continues to be a lack of clarity" over whether medicines regulators and safety authorities had access to full trial results.