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From late 2005 the threat of a flu pandemic has massively increased demand for oseltamivir — better known by its trade name Tamiflu. Now manufacturer Roche has joined forces with other companies to boost production, and generic drug makers have started producing their own versions.

So supplies of the drug look set to meet or even outstrip demand by 2007. But significant questions remain — such as the treatment's affordability to poorer nations and its efficacy against the H5N1 bird flu virus. In this article, Martin Enserink reports on what is being done to answer these questions.

While generic versions currently cost as much as Tamiflu, competition will probably drive prices down. More promising news for developing countries, perhaps, is the work of researchers at Harvard University in the United States, who have devised a cheaper way to make the drug.

But is oseltamivir up to the job? It will take time to find out, but in the meantime, hospitals in Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam have teamed up with the US National Institutes of Health to test dosage levels. And the World Health Organization is looking into using the drug to protect people from infection, in addition to treating those who succumb to the virus.

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