Roche in talks with officials over plan to manufacture antiviral drug in China to head off shortage in case of a pandemic Pharmaceutical giant Roche has started talks with Chinese officials about producing the antiviral Tamiflu on the mainland, amid concerns the world's most populous nation could face a shortage if a bird flu pandemic struck. 'We are talking with a number of Chinese authorities to see what is the best way to address the issue at this point,' Roche chairman and chief executive officer Franz Humer told the South China Morning Post yesterday. He declined to give details, saying such a move would be premature. 'But we are certainly in discussions,' he said on the sidelines of an international business meeting in Shanghai. 'We've had requests for licensees from many countries and organisations and we are currently assessing which countries and organisations have the capability to actually supplement our own significantly increased production capacity.' The Swiss-based health care company is also seeking to meet orders elsewhere in Asia. 'We've had orders from a number of countries in Asia and ... they are being fulfilled,' Dr Humer said. Roche has doubled production of the drug in response to rising demand and will boost the output eight to 10 times by the middle of next year, according to the company's web site. The group's sales rose 17 per cent year on year in the first nine months of the year to 25.4 billion Swiss francs ($154 billion), helped by sales of Tamiflu. Dr Humer declined to be drawn into the debate over the need for stockpiling Tamiflu, saying it was up to individual governments. However, he cited the advice of the World Health Organisation, which has recommended countries establish stockpiles. 'I think countries need to make up their own minds about what they intend and plan to do,' he said. He denied allegations by Guangdong doctors that the company was dumping boxes of Tamiflu close to its expiry date on the mainland. Vendors in the province appear to be selling older batches of Tamiflu. Roche launched Tamiflu in North America and Switzerland in 1999-2000 and all key European markets in 2002-2003. 'The shelf life of the finished product has increased to five years and the raw materials to over 10 years, so expiry is not an issue,' Dr Humer said.