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Japanese researchers find new way to make Tamiflu

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  • Japanese researchers find new way to make Tamiflu

    Japanese researchers find new way to make Tamiflu
    02 Mar 2006 07:14:10 GMT

    Source: Reuters
    TOKYO, March 2 (Reuters) - A team of Japanese researchers has developed a new way of producing the anti-flu drug Tamiflu that does not rely on natural ingredients and may help ensure more stable supplies, the head of the team said.
    Tamiflu, produced by Swiss-based pharmaceutical company Roche Holding AG <ROG.VX>, is considered one of the best defences against bird flu in humans, and there are fears of a possible shortage in the event of a global flu pandemic.
    In a finding that may eventually lessen risks of a shortage, Professor Masakatsu Shibasaki of the University of Tokyo's Graduate School of Pharmaceutical Sciences said his team had found a way to make Tamiflu without using shikimic acid, which is produced from a spice called star anise.
    By using a chemical ingredient instead, the new method eliminates weather as a risk factor in Tamiflu production, Shibasaki said in a telephone interview this week.
    "For example, morphine production can fall sharply if there is a poor poppy harvest. For medical production, natural ingredients can be a cause for anxiety," Shibasaki said.
    The new method may also make it easier to develop new medications if drug-resistant influenza viruses emerge, he said.
    Instead of shikimic acid, which is taken from star anise, a brownish star-shaped fruit often used as a spice in Chinese cuisine, the method developed by Shibasaki's team uses a chemical ingredient called 1,4-cyclohexadiene.
    Shibasaki said Roche has published papers on other methods of synthetic production. But he said his team's new method, which employs a technique called asymmetric catalysis, is more efficient and offers a more viable alternative.
    Shibasaki said his team's findings were still at the stage of basic research conducted in university laboratories, and further research would be needed for it to be ready for practical use.
    Tokyo University has applied for an intellectual property patent in Japan and is now in discussions with Roche on a number of issues, Shibasaki said. If Roche agrees, one possible outcome may be to cooperate on further research, he said.
    "If things go well, I hope we may be able to pave the way towards giving supplies to society in around two years," Shibasaki said, adding that he would soon submit a paper on his team's findings to the Journal of the American Chemical Society.
    According to the World Health Organisation, 94 people in Asia and the Middle East have been killed by the H5N1 bird flu virus since it re-emerged in late 2003.
    Although humans at present contract avian flu only through close contact with infected birds, there are fears the virus could mutate into a form that passes easily from person to person, sparking a pandemic in which millions could die.