Flu Drugs Stockpiled May Do More Harm Than Good, Researchers Say
By Oliver Staley April 09, 2014
Tamiflu and Relenza, antiviral drugs stockpiled by governments to tame influenza outbreaks, haven’t been proven to prevent pandemics and may cause more harm in some patients than good, researchers said after reviewing 170,000 pages of clinical-trial data.
The findings, published today in the journal BMJ, came from the Cochrane Collaboration, a nonprofit U.K. research organization, using information obtained from Roche Holding AG (ROG), maker of Tamiflu, and GlaxoSmithKline Plc (GSK), which sells Relenza.
The U.S. has spent $1.3 billion, and the U.K. 424 million pounds ($710 million), stockpiling the drugs following a 2009 outbreak of the H1N1 swine flu. The Cochrane researchers, who examined the reports of 20 Tamiflu trials and 26 Relenza studies, found Tamiflu reduced flu symptoms for adults by 17 hours without curbing the number of hospitalizations. Tamiflu also caused vomiting, delirium and loss of kidney function in some patients. There was no evidence that using the treatments could stop a massive outbreak, the researchers said.
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“There’s no credible way these drugs could prevent a pandemic,” Carl Heneghan, one of the authors of today’s study and a professor of evidence-based medicine at the University of Oxford, said at a media briefing in London. Money spent on stockpiling “has been thrown down the drain.”