The company that makes Tamiflu, the drug health authorities are stockpiling in case of a flu pandemic, says it will consider letting governments and other companies produce the drug.
Roche Pharmaceuticals also said it would expand its manufacturing capacity to meet the rapidly growing demand.
Tamiflu, also known as oseltamivir, reduces flu symptoms. It might be able to cure and reduce the spread of infection between people if the bird flu virus H5N1, which has killed 60 people in Asia, sparks a human pandemic.
Because it holds the patent for the drug, Roche is the only company allowed to make it, but cannot keep up with increased global demand.
The company announced today (18 October) that the US Food and Drug Administration has given it permission to open an extra factory in the United States to make more of the drug.
A Roche spokesperson told SciDev.Net that the company was unable to say how much this would boost supplies.
William Burns, head of Roche's Pharma Division, said in today's statement that to supply the world with more Tamiflu the company was prepared to discuss "all available options" with any government or company.
Burns said Roche would do this "provided such groups can realistically produce substantial amounts of the medicine for emergency pandemic use, in accordance with appropriate quality specifications, safety and regulatory guidelines".
According to Reuters, the Indian drug company Cipla wants to start making oseltamivir but has yet to approach Roche.
Reuters also reports that Thailand plans to bypass Roche's patent and make a much cheaper, generic version of the drug by October 2006.
Roche told SciDev.Net that an Asian government — but not the Thai one — had approached it about a production agreement for the drug.
Also today, GlaxoSmithKline announced it would to increase production of another flu drug called Relenza (zanamivir), which some researchers have urged governments to stockpile in addition to Tamiflu (see Tamiflu-resistant bird flu found in Vietnam).