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Bird Flu - Archives


October 14th - October 18th, 2005

Now Greece?

Greece has confirmed a bird flu outbreak at one of its Aegean islands. It will be a week before the strain of the virus is known.

October 18th, 2005


Looking for Profits in Bird Flu

Reuters features an article on currency traders and their outlook on how a bird flu panic might affect currency movements. The main points:


"Speculators are already looking at this," said Craig Russell, senior foreign exchange dealer at Alaron FX in Chicago. "Negative news is a chance to make a profit. People will short the currency." Shorting is where an investor borrows a currency and sells it, betting he will be able to profit by repaying the loan with currency bought at a lower price….


The expectation is for an initial knee-jerk reaction in the currency of a country where any human epidemic breaks out, but that afterwards the currencies of countries most dependent on international trade and travel would be hit hardest. "I can't imagine it's good for any currency but the Aussie and kiwi dollars bear the brunt of global risk events," said Michael Jansen, currency strategist at National Australia Bank in New York. Investors see the fortunes of the Australian and New Zealand dollars as sensitive to even slight changes in global economic growth as they are commodity-based currencies, whose economies are heavily reliant on international trade….


"Since it is impossible to predict when and with what magnitude such a pandemic would hit, the only thing that would be fairly certain is that the market would experience increased volatility until the uncertainty of the situation wore off," said Global Forex Trading chief currency dealer Kurt Hoeksema….


If a bird flu virus were to infect significant proportions of the global population even safe-haven currencies and securities like the Swiss franc and U.S. Treasury bonds might come under pressure, analysts said. Then "we could potentially see an outflow from currency markets and into commodities such as gold for a short period of time as they could potentially be viewed as a currency substitute/store of value," said George Davis, chief technical analyst at RBC Capital Markets in Toronto.


The Motley Fool investor website also carries a report (registration – which is free – is required) on stocks that could benefit. They are Roche Holdings, Gilead Sciences, Biota Holdings, GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi-Aventis. No surprises there.

October 18th, 2005


Generic Tamiflu

The Taiwanese Department of Health has written to Roche requesting negotiations on the generic production of Tamiflu. Meanwhile, Thailand is apparently going ahead with its own production, without consulting Roche.

October 18th, 2005


Thumbs Up for Tamiflu

An Aussie scientist has said Tamiflu will likely be effective against any bird flu that hits Australia.


Professor Bill Rawlinson, a virologist from the Prince of Wales Hospital, said there was no need for people to panic that Tamiflu was no longer an effective vaccine….A bird flu outbreak in Australia would be the result of a new strain able to spread from humans to humans, and such a strain was more likely than not to be sensitive to Tamiflu, he said. Australian health officials have stockpiled Tamiflu, as well as a similar drug, Relenza. Professor Rawlinson said any strain of flu resistant to Tamiflu was likely to also be resistant to Relenza. "If bird flu comes to Australia, it is possible that resistance will be a problem - but it is unlikely," he said.

October 17th, 2005

Will We All Die?

Is there a vaccine and how can I get it F-A-S-T?


Don’t hold your breath (unless there’s a chicken about).


So says an amusing and lengthy report in Britain’s The Sunday Times, titled “How to Survive Bird Flu” and sub-titled “The deadly H5N1 virus is heading our way. Will we all die?”


It carries a lot of practical information, and ends with reassurance:



We humans love to scare ourselves, but rarely do our worst fears come to be — partly because we worry so much. Consider these scares of the past…


Here’s the list:


Global nuclear holocaust

Global cooling

The millennium bug

Mad Cow disease



October 16th, 2005


Tamiflu Update

First we hear that several companies plan generic versions of Tamiflu. Now we learn that there’s not enough star anise.


Production of Tamiflu, made by the Swiss company Roche, is being hampered by a shortage of star anise, a star-shaped fruit grown in China and the source of shikimic acid from which Tamiflu is made in a year-long process. Ninety per cent of the harvest is already used by Roche.

October 16th, 2005


Romania Gets Tough

Romania has launched a massive poultry cull, after confirmation that bird flu discovered in the country was H5N1. The village where the virus was discovered has been isolated, and authorities are also creating a buffer zone of four counties. Pigs are being rounded up, and hunting has been banned.

October 16th, 2005


Bird Flu Hits Europe
Here in
Melbourne, The Age newspaper reports that an outbreak of bird flu in Romania is H5N1, according to the Romanian state veterinary authority.

October 15th, 2005


The Headline Says It All

Bird Flu Virus That Is Drug-Resistant Is Found in Vietnamese Girl
Washington Post


In other drug developments:


The Philippine Department of Health has urged local drug manufacturers to try to make their own versions of Tamiflu. “[Health Undersecretary Alex] Padilla said the Bureau of Food and Drugs would issue a certificate of product registration authorizing the sale of a locally produced vaccine in the Philippine market. ‘It’s up to (Roche) to file a complaint.’”


Sanofi-Pasteur is to begin clinical trials in (northern) spring 2006 of its vaccine.

Two bloggers, Stephen Gordon and Andrew Sullivan, call for Roche to be forced to allow generic production of Tamiflu. Says Sullivan: "We have no time to waste."

October 15th, 2005


Indian Company to Make Generic Tamiflu

Cipla, India’s third-largest drugs manufacturer, says it plans to start producing a generic version of Tamiflu. The company says it has finished reverse engineering the drug, and believes it can have small commercial quantities available as early as January. This is despite claims from Roche, holder of the Tamiflu patent, that it could three years for another company to be able to produce the drug.

October 14th, 2005

Bird Flu and the Stock Market

The Wall Street Journal has presented an investor’s guide to stocks that might benefit from their exposure to bird flu. The obvious name is, of course, Swiss company Roche Holdings, which makes Tamiflu, and whose shares have climbed 15% in three months. However, the article has put the spotlight on the small Australian company Biota Holdings, which makes the anti-viral drug Relenza. Biota shares have quadrupled in three months. Two other companies involved in bird flu vaccine developments are Sanofi-Aventis SA and Chiron Corporation. Also mentioned in the article is Gilead Sciences, which developed Tamiflu with Roche. Finally, the article highlights Korean kimchi (hot pickled cabbage) manufacturer Pulmuone. Some reports suggest that kimchi might help ward off flu infections.

October 14th, 2005


Vaccine Update

New Scientist has placed online a lengthy article on bird flu vaccine developments. It repeats what has already been said, that even if a vaccine is developed, it may not be possible to produce enough. The article also points to commercial and political obstacles. Its conclusion:


If the political will were there, we could already be taking steps to protect ourselves against the first wave. When researchers at the vaccine maker Chiron tested the blood of people who had received an experimental vaccine against a 1997 strain of H5 bird flu, they found it cross-reacted strongly with the H5 flu that killed people in Vietnam last year. This raises hopes that a vaccine against 2004 or even 1997 H5, say, might work against an H5 pandemic strain, even if it differs slightly. "We are confident that a vaccine is feasible even if it is not fully matched to the pandemic strain, as long as there is a strong adjuvant," Giuseppe del Giudice of Chiron told New Scientist. While it may not protect 100 per cent, it might mean that H5 does not kill so many people. And it would act as a "priming" dose, meaning people would later require only one shot of vaccine matched to the pandemic strain.

October 14th, 2005


North Korea Knows That Transparency Necessary

WHO Director-General and Korean national Lee Jong-wook has told a Seoul press conference that North Korea was well aware of the threat posed by bird flu.


"When an avian influenza outbreak was reported in the North last time, we told Pyongyang that sharing information with WHO and receiving our medication and equipment would help them," Dr. Lee said. "North Korea knows that it has to handle the case transparently."


In March, North Korea reported that it had culled hundreds of thousands of chickens after a bird flu outbreak at “two or three” farms, including Hadang farm in Pyongyang, one of the capital city's largest. It did not specify the strain of flu, but asked for international assistance. North and South Korean officials have held government-level talks on the problem. Such meetings are rare, and it suggests that North Korea takes the bird flu threat seriously. In July it was reported that North Korea had successfully ended the outbreak, which it said was of the H7 strain.

October 14th, 2005


Roche to Boost Tamiflu Production

Roche has taken steps to boost production of Tamiflu. However,


the 12 months it takes to make Tamiflu means governments that have yet to order will have to wait, Swiss pharmaceutical company Roche Holding AG said Wednesday…."We asked governments several years ago to make Tamiflu orders for pandemic purposes well in advance," Roche spokesman Alexander Klauser told The Associated Press. "We explained the procedure to them, how it works and that we had to start production well in advance or we wouldn't be able to produce Tamiflu in the required amounts on time."…Roche said there are 10 complex steps to make Tamiflu and it would be unrealistic to outsource the complete procedure, as outside companies would need up to three years to set up production as well as gain the capacity and know-how.

October 14th, 2005