Supporting pandemic preparedness

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Challenge

Influenza, or flu, is one of the most common, yet serious, infectious diseases, representing a significant threat to public health. Influenza epidemics are caused by viruses that have not previously circulated in humans, and as most people have no immunity, many are at risk of infection. Globally, epidemics occur almost annually in temperate climates and result in 3 to 5 million cases of severe disease, millions of hospitalisations and up to 650,000 deaths worldwide.

An influenza pandemic is a global outbreak of a new influenza virus that affects very large numbers of people. Pandemics occur at irregular intervals and are therefore impossible to predict. The World Bank estimates that a flu pandemic could kill 71 million people worldwide, infecting hundreds of millions of people.

Influenza can cause serious adverse effects including nausea, vomiting, fever, delirium and confusion. Pregnant women and their unborn babies are at risk of complications due to influenza. Those who are vulnerable, such as the young, elderly and individuals who are immunocompromised, are at greater risk if they contract influenza.

Flu viruses mutate during replication. These mutations can mean that existing vaccines and drugs are no longer effective against a particular flu virus strain – the virus has developed resistance to existing treatments. To combat this resistance, new treatment options are needed.

Given the unpredictability of annual vaccine efficacy and the significant lag time associated with developing vaccines for a specific pandemic strain, a robust influenza preparedness plan must integrate the unique and complementary roles of antivirals and vaccines.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has advised that an influenza pandemic remains a real threat and has provided recommendations regarding the steps governments should take to protect public health. National pandemic preparedness plans and antiviral stockpiles are central to ensure timely access during a pandemic to mitigate the public health impact and the social and economic disruption.

Our contribution

As an innovation based pharmaceutical company, our primary role is to research, develop and produce innovative medicines and diagnostic tests that help patients live better and longer lives.

Roche recognises a clear need to develop effective anti-viral medicines to prevent and treat influenza. We are focused on bringing innovation to this field by developing influenza medicines with novel mechanisms of actions, to address ongoing unmet medical needs and antiviral resistance. We also provide diagnostic tools for clinicians, which provide faster diagnosis and treatment for patients in primary and urgent care settings.

We remain engaged and supportive of WHO and governments’ pandemic preparedness efforts by:

  • Contributing to WHO’s Pandemic Influenza Preparedness (PIP) Framework
  • Donating 5 million courses of antiviral treatment to be distributed as directed by WHO
  • Offering differentiated pricing by GDP country groups (as defined by The World Bank)

We also work closely with the WHO to maintain oseltamivir stockpiles for distribution by the WHO to countries in need during a pandemic. Local governments and health authorities may also decide to utilise their local stockpiles for preventative measures to quickly contain and manage local outbreaks.

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Tags: Access to healthcare