Why stockpiling anti-flu drugs may not be a waste of money

Lawrence McGinty

Former Science and Medical Editor

Tamiflu, an antiviral drug used to combat swine flu. Credit: PA

It's a startling and disturbing conclusion. The Government has effectively thrown half a billion pounds down the drain by stockpiling two anti-flu drugs that are not proven to work.

So is it true?

The group making the allegation - the Cochrane Collaboration, an international network of health researchers - says the Government was wrong to stockpile Tamiflu (and another anti-viral called Relenza) to use in case of a flu pandemic.

Why? Because there is no evidence in the clinical trials that were done on those drugs that they prevent complications like pneumonia or stop the spread of the virus.

But flu experts take a different view. They say research around the world during the 2009 pandemic of swine flu shows exactly the opposite. (Some of that research was paid for by Tamiflu's makers, the drug giant Roche).

So who do you believe?

The plant of Swiss pharmaceutical company Roche in Basel. Credit: Reuters

Here's my view. If you think that the only evidence you should take into account is evidence from scientifically controlled clinical trials, go with Cochrane.

But if you think evidence from real pandemics should count, stick with the Government and the World Health Organisation and pay for the stockpiles.

Professor Peter Openshaw, a flu expert from Imperial College in London, put it this way: "We have to ask ourselves: would we prefer to have no reserves of anti-virals, when we have nothing else available with which to treat a novel pandemic flu virus?"

Read:Roche: We disagree with conclusions of report