a nobel prize-winning chemist has found a way to mass-produce Tamiflu (oseltamivir), which is considered the main drug against avian flu virus infection in humans.
Tamiflu manufacturer, the Swiss pharma giant Roche, has been unable to mass-produce the drug owing to two reasons -- one, the low availability of the basic ingredient needed, and two, the potentially explosive nature of the reactions required, which limit production to small batches at a time.
The drug is made from shikimic acid that is extracted from the star anise seed, which is scarce and found only in four provinces in southwest China. However, Elias Corey of Harvard University (usa
) and his colleagues claim the drug can also be made using two abundant, cheap and simple chemicals -- acrylate and butadiene. The key is a catalyst developed in Corey's laboratory, around four years back, which amalgamates all the chemicals into the final molecule.
All the reactions required for the new technique can be performed at room temperature except one, which requires refrigeration. Moreover, this method bypasses the explosive reaction, a major concern with the current method. According to Corey, the process can be scaled-up easily from the lab to commercial levels. A similar catalyst is currently used in the production of Advair, an asthma drug.
Though Roche holds the patent on the end-product, that is Tamiflu, any new process will also require regulatory approvals from medical authorities of the countries concerned. Roche has declared it is ready to grant licenses to other drug-manufacturers to produce generic versions (such as the one made by Corey's team) of Tamiflu.
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