India’s top pharmaceutical company Ranbaxy Laboratories Ltd. said Friday it is talking to Roche of Switzerland for a license to manufacture a generic version of the anti-flu drug Tamiflu, a move that could ease supplies of the drug in the event of a bird flu pandemic.
Ranbaxy could develop a generic copy of the flu drug in “a couple of months,” said Brian Tempest, the company’s chief executive.
Tempest said talks are underway with Roche Holding AG for a license, and if it comes through, it would take Ranbaxy another six months to make the generic version available in the market.
Roche could not immediately be reached for comment.
Earlier this week, Ranbaxy’s Indian rival, Cipla Ltd., said it would seek a license to copy Tamiflu. Cipla said it has already developed the generic version — oseltamivir.
Both the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization say data are limited, but two drugs are believed likely to help, if used early, to treat humans who have bird flu — Tamiflu and Relenza (zanamavir), which is made by GlaxoSmithKline PLC.
The H5N1 strain of bird flu has been sweeping through poultry populations in Asia since 2003, occasionally infecting humans and killing at least 65 people, mostly poultry workers. So far, the virus does not pass from person to person, but experts fear it could mutate.
The disease has lately spread to Europe and countries around the world are stocking up on Tamiflu.
Roche, which owns the patent to make Tamiflu, has been under growing pressure to license generic versions of the drug, which is already in short supply.
Neither Cipla nor Ranbaxy have said how much a generic version would cost, but it is expected to be cheaper than Tamiflu, which costs up to $60 for a strip of 10 tablets.