Taiwan has become the first country to issue a compulsory licence for the generic production of Tamiflu, the only drug currently available for the treatment of avian flu, in order to ensure that the country has sufficient quantities of the medicine in the event of a pandemic.
Taiwan recently ordered 2.3 million treatments of the drug from Swiss pharmaceutical manufacturer Roche, which holds the patent on Tamiflu. These are set to be delivered by the middle of next year. However, this would only be enough to cover ten percent of the population. In order to avoid damage to the country's reputation for protecting intellectual property, the Taiwan Intellectual Property Office (TIPO) has indicated that in the event of a national emergency it would exhaust the stockpiles of the patented drug purchased from Roche before reverting to generic copies of Tamiflu (called oseltamivir) produced under compulsory license. The Taiwanese government has reportedly already made small amounts of oseltamivir, and the TIPO has trained two local companies to produce it. Roche has suggested that a fallback on compulsory licenses would likely prove unnecessary.
Meanwhile, Roche has indicated that it does not have patent protection for Tamiflu in Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines. These countries are thus free to legally produce the drugs for their domestic markets without applying for compulsory licenses. It remains to be seen whether other countries in the region will attempt to utilise the '30 August 2003 Decision' to import generic copies of Tamiflu. To date, no countries have utilised the waiver to import generic drugs for public health crises.
In recent months policymakers all over the world have explored options to allow for the production or import of generic versions of Tamiflu, even in countries such as the US that have traditionally resisted the generic production of drugs still under patent.
"Taiwan Licences Tamiflu for Local Companies, FINANCIAL TIMES, 26-27 November 2005; "Roche Confirms Ability to Supply Pandemic Tamiflu to the People of Taiwan," ROCHE MEDIA NEWS, 25 November 2005; "Indonesia Says to Begin Making Tamiflu in 3 to 5 Months," REUTERS, 26 November 2005; "Taiwan to Bypass Roche, Make Tamiflu," TAIPEI TIMES, 26 November 2005; "Thailand 'free to Produce own Tamiflu,'" BANGKOK POST, 29 November 2005; "Taiwan OKs Tamiflu Production," REUTERS, 26 November 2005.