Drug Tamiflu does nothing to halt the spread of influenza and Government wasted nearly £500 million stockpiling it over swine flu pandemic, study finds
The review, authored by Oxford University, claims that Roche, the drug’s Swiss manufacturer, gave a “false impression” of its effectiveness and accuses the company of “sloppy science”.
The study found that Tamiflu, which was given to 240,000 people in the UK at a rate of 1,000 a week, has been linked to suicides of children in Japan and suggested that, far from easing flu symptoms, it could actually worsen them.
Roche claimed at the time of the 2009 swine flu outbreak that trials had shown that it would reduce hospital admissions and complications such as pneumonia, bronchitis or sinusitis.
Based on the results, the Department of Health bought around 40 million doses of Tamiflu at a cost of £424 million and prescribed it to around 240,000 people. In 2009, 0.5 per cent of the entire NHS budget was spent on the drug.
However, researchers from The Cochrane Collaboration, a not-for-profit organisation which carries out reviews of health data, found that Tamiflu only cut flu-like symptoms from seven days to 6.3 days and there was no evidence of a reduction in hospital admissions.
Eight children who took the drug in Japan ended up committing suicide after suffering psychotic episodes. Other side effects included kidney problems, nausea, vomiting and headaches.
Many people reported feeling anxious or depressed when taking the drug.
Data from 20 trials of Tamiflu also suggested that it prevented some people from producing sufficient numbers of their own antibodies to fight infection.
Dr Carl Henegen, professor of evidence-based medicine at Oxford, said: “This drug was given to 1,000 people a week over a phone line, but it was no better for symptom relief than over-the-counter medication — and you’re talking about potentially serious complications. I wouldn’t prescribe it to my patients.”
Dr Tom Jefferson, an epidemiologist with The Cochrane Collaboration, added: “The stuff is toxic. It increased the risk of psychiatric events, headaches and renal events in one in 150 people. People reported nausea, vomiting and constriction of the airways. In Japan eight children jumped out of windows and committed suicide.” The report’s authors said they had struggled to obtain the original trial data from Roche, which initially claimed it was confidential.
The Government began stockpiling Tamiflu in 2006 over fears about bird flu after it was approved by the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence. It is not widely prescribed for regular flu.
Roche said it “fundamentally disagrees” with the latest findings.
Dr Daniel Thurley, the company’s UK medical director, added: “We disagree with the overall conclusions of this report. Roche stands behind the wealth of data for Tamiflu and the decisions of public health agencies worldwide, including the US and European Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organisation.
“The report’s methodology is often unclear and inappropriate, and their conclusions could potentially have serious public health implications. Neuraminidase inhibitors are a vital treatment option for patients with influenza.”
The Department of Health said that Tamiflu had a “proven record” of safety, quality and efficacy. But a spokesman said health officials would consider the latest Cochrane review “closely”.
The review is published on Thursday in the British Medical Journal.