An Open Letter to President Bush
Dear Mr. President:
Like many Americans I'm deeply concerned about the risk of Avian flu. News about our nation's preparedness has not been reassuring.
The only drug that is thought to have any impact on the disease once contracted is Tamiflu. Senator Frisk recently wrote that we have "about 2 percent of what we would need in a serious outbreak." The United States currently has only 2.3 million Tamiflu doses.
Though this drug was developed in the United States by Gilead Sciences, an exclusive license was granted to the Swiss pharmaceutical company Roche to manufacture the drug. Unfortunately, Roche lacks the capacity to manufacture enough of the drug to combat a pandemic. Nations are literally waiting in line - with the United States standing behind much of the rest of the developed world.
I was glad to hear that Roche plans to open a plant in the United States to produce the drug. But that plant will not be in production until late next year. Hopefully that will be soon enough. But many experts believe that a pandemic could be only months or even weeks away.
Columnist Nick Schulz has argued that you should:
...order the Food and Drug Administration to fast-track approval of... established plants in the United States for manufacturing the ingredients of Tamiflu...
[And] encourage Roche to initiate a technology transfer to manufacturers in the US to ramp-up development.
You, Mr. President, have stated that potentially 1.9 million Americans could die. Considering this risk, Mr. Schulz doesn't go far enough.
We should start making the drug now.
Whatever the legal obstacles, we should begin. Yesterday the Indian drug company Cipla announced they are going to do exactly that. They will make the drug now and fight the civil battle with Roche later. It is the right thing for India.
It is important to our economy that America leads the world in respect for intellectual property. Therefore, efforts should be made to secure permission from Roche. But, if permission is not forthcoming, we should make the drug anyway and compensate Roche later. This is a matter of national security.
The entire world would be served by this move. If American is meeting it's own demand, Roche's manufacturing capacity could be diverted to other countries that are unable to make this drug.
I thank you for taking the Avian Flu threat seriously. Please consider taking this additional step to protect our country.
Stephen T. Gordon