Following up on my spoof post about the complexity of making bets when it comes to new pharma products, worries about Tamiflu continue. The original issue was one of unexplained deaths in Japan, which were, more or less, subsequently explained. Now there are questions about its efficacy in the case of the H5N1 flu strain, and this is important since Tamiflu is known to have side effects. All in all, something to treat with caution.
The study raises new questions about the drug, which more than 50 governments have ordered in significant quantities in recent months to stockpile as a potential prophylactic and treatment in the case of a flu pandemic.
An accompanying article in the Journal reinforced calls for alternative approaches to treatment for a pandemic, including the stockpiling of the rival drug zanamivir, or Relenza.
Dr Anne Moscona wrote that individualsâ€™ stockpiling of Tamiflu was â€œpotentially dangerousâ€ because it could lead to insufficient doses and inadequate courses of therapy, in turn accelerating the development of resistance.
So maybe Brad Delong’s hypothetical government would have been better off nationalising Zanamivir (or maybe not). The thing is it is really hard to know in advance, and that is an in-principle problem. At the end of the day this is why the private sector solution may be better, because at least you have different horses in the race.