Some 270 people have contracted the H5N1 virus or avian flu, according to the World Health Organization, and 164 of them have died. It's the high death rate--greater than 50%--that has alarmed so many health officials. One drug that is on the market for patients is Tamiflu--made by Gilead Sciences. Sales of the drug have made a big turnaround over the last few years--but is it a cure-all for the bird flu? CNBC's pharmaceutical's reporter Mike Huckman has the full story on the drugmaker and how Tamiflu has become so popular.
Norbert Bischofberger is Exec. VP for Research and Development at Gilead. Back in the early 90's--he and his colleagues saw GlaxoSmithKline working on the inhalable flu-fighter Relenza, and they got the idea to develop a similar drug in pill form. Bischofberger says that it was a big commercial opportunity and the existing drugs left a lot to be desired.
Using a special type of acid from star anise fruit--Bischofberger and a handful of scientists discovered the Tamiflu molecule--which blocks the typical flu virus from spreading. And in just six years--the drug was approved by the FDA. What they didn't have was a marketing agent--so they partnered with Roche --thinking they were the best company to market Tamilfu. But Bischofberger says they weren't committed enough and Gilead sued Roche--because "we did not see that Tamiflu was getting the attention and importance that it should."