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      India, maker of generic drugs, offers help Southeast Asia to fight bird flu

      Posted AtKhaleej Times

      India's prime minister has offered his country's expertise in making generic drugs to Southeast Asian nations to help deal with the menace of bird flu.

      Manmohan Singh told leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations at a summit on Tuesday that India can support their efforts to make a generic version of Tamiflu drug, the only known medical shield against the disease, said Rajiv Sikri, a top diplomat aiding Singh.

      "He offered the efforts to support a generic version of anti-viral drugs and a regional network of anti-viral drugs stockpiling," Sikri said.

      Details of India's possible support will have to be discussed "at a more technical level," said Sikri, briefing reporters on the gist of Singh's discussions with ASEAN's 10 leaders. India is one of the largest makers of copycat generic drugs for a host of illnesses including HIV/AIDS.

      "India's strengths in the pharmaceutical industry are recognized. India is a source of effective and affordable drugs," Sikri said.

      "Therefore India can make a contribution in tackling these transnational communicable diseases like avian flu, or HIV/AIDS or whatever through supply of drugs and proper stockpiling of these drugs," he said.

      India's top pharmaceutical company Ranbaxy Laboratories Ltd. said in October that it is talking to Roche of Switzerland for a license to manufacture a generic version of the anti-flu drug Tamiflu, a move that could ease supplies of the drug in the event of a bird flu pandemic.

      Ranbaxy says it could develop a generic copy of the flu drugs in a couple of months.

      Earlier, Ranbaxy's Indian rival, Cipla Ltd., also said it would seek a license to copy Tamiflu. Cipla said it has already developed the generic version - oseltamivir.

      Both the US Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization say data are limited, but two drugs are believed likely to help, if used early, to treat humans who have bird flu - Tamiflu and Relenza (zanamavir), which is made by GlaxoSmithKline PLC.

      The H5N1 strain of bird flu has been sweeping through poultry populations in Asia since 2003, occasionally infecting humans and killing at least 69 people, mostly poultry workers.

      So far, the virus has not been confirmed to pass from person to person, but experts fear it could mutate into a highly contagious form, sparking a pandemic.

      Roche, which owns the patent to make Tamiflu, has been under growing pressure to license generic versions of the drug, which is already in short supply.

      During the summit, Singh also proposed setting up English training language courses in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam, and a special courses for diplomats from ASEAN countries

      December 14, 2005


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