The global shortage of the flu drug Tamiflu could be partially overcome by combining it with another more widely available drug that can double Tamiflu's effectiveness, says a US-based researcher.
Tamiflu is the World Health Organization's drug of choice for treating people infected with the H5N1 bird flu virus. But there are not enough doses to protect all those at risk if H5N1 develops the ability to spread between people.
To boost supplies, Tamiflu's manufacturer Roche is scaling up production, and companies in India and elsewhere plan to produce versions of the drug.
Now, a US researcher has suggested making Tamiflu supplies stretch further by using a technique developed during the Second World War. At the time, patients needed high doses of penicillin because their kidneys removed the drug from the bloodstream and made the body pass it out in urine. A second drug called probenecid was used to stop their kidneys doing this.
Joe Howton, medical director at the Adventist Medical Center in Portland, Oregon, has shown that the kidneys also remove Tamiflu, and that probenecid limits this process. Taking the two drugs together would halve the amount of Tamiflu each patient needs.
This approach could be very valuable for treating people rapidly during an outbreak. However, Tamiflu supplies would still fall short if predictions of how many people a flu pandemic could affect are accurate.