AT A GLANCE: Tamiflu back in spotlight after pandemic estimate

PRWEEK: Is this the Government’s prediction of a ’flu pandemic?

ROCHE: Yes, it was widely reported last Friday that the Government has outlined plans for dealing with an outbreak, including cheery topics like mass burials and the possibility of storing dead bodies in refrigerated trailers.

PRWEEK: So we’re all going to die?

ROCHE: Well, up to 650,000 of us in the UK will, according to the Home Office’s draft guidance paper. Although its report was concerned with the mechanics of dealing with that eventuality, rather than the pharmacological interventions to combat it, Roche’s Tamiflu is seen as the best hope in the face of a ’flu pandemic. The World Health Organization has already recommended that governments everywhere stockpile the drug.

PRWEEK: Who handles comms for Tamiflu?

ROCHE: Ketchum has the global account, a mix of corporate, B2B and government relations. Sebastien Desprez is MD of international healthcare, while the agency’s healthcare MD Susannah Knox focuses on UK business. The Ketchum team reports to Roche HQ in Basel, Switzerland.

PRWEEK: So is Roche upping its comms?

ROCHE: A statement from Roche UK to PRWeek says the company ‘looks forward to any further developments as the Government finalises its plans’. Two years ago the Government ordered 14.6m courses of Tamiflu, enough to treat a quarter of the UK’s population.

PRWEEK: Is this just about bird ’flu?

ROCHE: While there is a concern that H5N1, the human strain of bird ’flu, could spread easily from person to person, the worry is about influenza per se. There hasn’t been a bad outbreak in the UK for three decades, and the Home Office plans are made as much with a strain of ‘ordinary’ ’flu in mind.

PRWEEK: Presumably ’flu vaccines are lucrative?

ROCHE: The global market for ’flu vaccines has been projected to be worth £2bn by 2010, so it is not just big pharma companies showing an interest. Cambridge-based biotech firm Acambis is developing a ’flu vaccine called ACAM-FLU-A. Lyndsay Wright, the company’s vice-president of comms and investor relations, says the drug entered phase one clinical trials in July. Northbank Communications handled comms for that announcement and Acambis retains Brunswick for financial PR counsel.

For further information visit www.preparingforemergencies.gov.uk

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