How effective is Roche's Tamiflu, really?

Tamiflu provides only mild protection against complications resulting from influenza. That's according to the Cochrane Collaboration, an independent group that analyzed 20 studies of the drug. The group's findings, published in the British Medical Journal, caused it to reverse its earlier assertion that Tamiflu protects users against potentially deadly conditions resulting from the flu.

The group found that neuraminidase inhibitors--such as Tamiflu--have modest effectiveness against the symptoms of influenza in otherwise healthy adults. And there was no conclusive evidence that the drugs prevented lower respiratory tract infections, pneumonia, and other complications. If taken early, however, the drug did lessen and shorten bouts of the flu.

This new report was an update of a 2005 analysis conducted by Cochrane. The original findings excluded eight studies that Roche hadn't published at the time and weren't available to the researchers. According the an editorial in the BMJ, when researchers tried to obtain the data, they were met with resistance at Roche, leaving them unable to verify their findings. Governments around the world have spent billions of dollars on Tamiflu as part of pandemic preparations, but today's news calls into question whether Tamiflu is the best course of treatment for the flu. The editorial criticizes public health policy that's built around drugs whose studies aren't available for independent verification.

The 2005 incident "exposed a complex interplay between politics, public health planning, availability of trial data, publishing, and drug regulation," according to the editorial, as quoted by Pharmalot.

- see the journal article
- check out the Bloomberg report
- here's the Pharmalot blog post