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Tamiflu Turnaround

AP

Is this a sign that the world has become complacent about the pandemic flu threat? Or that some people think it was all a bunch of hooey?

Roche today is announcing that it's cutting back production of Tamiflu. When bird flu stories and fears started reaching critical mass more than a year ago, Roche came under considerable criticism for not being able to make enough Tamiflu to meet the sudden spike in demand.

The drug has been shown to work in fighting off seasonal and avian flu strains, but there are scattered reports of patient resistance to Tamiflu. Roche responded by quickly expanding its worldwide manufacturing capacity. Soon after, it announced that it could make as much as 400 million courses of Tamiflu per year. (Gilead Sciences discovered Tamiflu and gets royalties on sales from Roche.)

But to date, Roche says it has received orders from governments, health agencies and corporations for a total of 215 million courses. So it's scaling back unless or until demand picks up. I suspect that could happen if or when an infected bird is confirmed to have shown up on North American shores.

GlaxoSmithKline makes a much smaller-selling inhalable flu drug called Relenza. And BioCryst Pharmaceuticals is testing an injectable antiviral called Peramivir (purr-am-uh-veer).

Questions? Comments? Pharma@cnbc.com