Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Journalistic Malpractice: USA Today's sin of omission

The article USA Today: Roche pressed to let others make Tamiflu is a case study in providing half of the story in covering a public policy issue.

The article was published on October 17, 2005. It covers the statement's of economic simpleton Senator Schumer calling for a temporary suspension of Roche Pharmeceuticals patent for Tamiflu, the anti-viral drug seen as the first defense against a potential avian flu pandemic.

The article concludes with some background information on the availability of Tamiflu:

...However, governments have ordered far more than Roche can quickly make, and the World Health Organization is also talking with Roche about how production can be increased, Reuters reported Monday. [ed: Monday is October 17, 2005, the same day the article was published]

The pressure on Roche is similar to that Bayer faced in 2001 over its antibiotic Cipro after anthrax scares in the USA. Bayer ended up tripling production and lowered the price of the drug.

While generic-drug makers cannot legally sell a patented drug in many countries, the U.S. government and others can cancel patents in emergencies. David Maris, drug analyst with Banc of America Securities, said he cannot recall such a case in recent decades.

Drugmakers spend hundreds of millions of dollars developing a new drug. In exchange, they get exclusive rights to market the drug for years.

But what the article leaves out is the same news organization, Reuters, that USA Today references also published an article 5 days earlier on Roche's efforts to manufacture more Tamiflu without any patent suspension coercion from Senator Schumer. From Reuters' Roche outsources some stages of Tamiflu production:

ZURICH, Oct 12 (Reuters) - Roche Holding AG, the Swiss company that produces the most effective antiviral drug available for avian flu, is outsourcing some stages of its production but would not surrender patents on it.

The Swiss firm is under pressure to increase production of the antiviral treatment Tamiflu amid fears of a shortage in the event of a bird flu pandemic.

Roche said on Wednesday that it had already outsourced some stages in the 10-step production process for the drug.

However, the Basel-based firm said it would not relinquish the patents that protect the treatment and it had no plans to farm out the entire production process to other companies, not least because of its complexity.

"We are already collaborating with several specialist companies on the production process for Tamiflu," a spokesman for Roche said. "This has nothing to do with the patent."

Roche said that it needed to enlist the help of other specialised companies in order to ramp up certain stages in the Tamiflu production process...
Update: Roche to donate bird flu drug to Romania,Turkey


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