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Last Updated: Saturday, 22 October 2005, 12:05 GMT 13:05 UK
Taiwan to ignore flu drug patent
Copy of Tamiflu produced in Taiwan
Taiwan says its copy of Tamiflu is cheaper and quicker to produce
Taiwan has responded to bird flu fears by starting work on its own version of the anti-viral drug, Tamiflu, without waiting for the manufacturer's consent.

Taiwan officials said they had applied for the right to copy the drug - but the priority was to protect the public.

Tamiflu, made by Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche, cannot cure bird-flu but is widely seen as the best anti-viral drug to fight it, correspondents say.

Bird flu has killed at least 60 people in Asia since December 2003.

Scientists fear the lethal H5N1 strain of the virus could combine with human flu or mutate into a form that is easily transmissible between humans, triggering a flu pandemic.

Several countries have asked Roche for the right to make generic copies of Tamiflu.

'Cheaper, faster production'

Taiwan will produce six kg of its version of Tamiflu - enough, according to the government, to renew its stocks.

The government has said it will not market the drug commercially.

A worker burns a chicken in China
Principally an avian disease, first seen in humans in Hong Kong, 1997
Almost all human cases thought to be contracted from birds
Isolated cases of human-to-human transmission in Hong Kong and Vietnam, but none confirmed

Production of the drug on a small scale has already started.

A top health official said Taiwan had demonstrated its goodwill to Roche in talks - and the country hoped it would eventually secure permission to copy the drug.

"We have tried our best to negotiate with Roche," Su Ih-jen told Reuters news agency.

"It means we have shown our goodwill to Roche and we appreciate their patent. But to protect our people is the utmost important thing," he said.

A generic version of the drug produced by the island's National Health Institute is said to be 99% akin to the Tamiflu produced by Roche.

Officials say they can make their version of the drug more quickly - and at a lower cost - than Roche does.

Although Taiwan has not had a serious outbreak, the virus has killed thousands of poultry - and scores of people who came into contact with the birds - in nearby countries.

It has also now spread to Europe, with the latest possible case reported in an imported parrot in the UK.

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