The Effectiveness of Tamiflu

Written by on April 11, 2014

One of this week’s biggest health news stories has centred around the publication of a Cochrane Collaboration report on the effectiveness of Tamiflu. The report has prompted claims that the UK government “wasted” hundreds of millions of pounds on stockpiling a drug which would have done nothing to prevent a flu epidemic. Critics have also poured scorn on Roche, the company behind Tamiflu, accusing it of withholding data from its clinical trials of the drug. Although Roche’s ethics have been called in to question, the company did not break any laws, and this has fanned the flames of an existing debate about the need for transparency and openness in clinical trials.  There are some very important issues up for discussion here and a lot of information to plough through. We’ve compiled a list of links to some of the most concise and readable accounts of the Tamiflu saga so far.

Cochrane Collaboration

Neuraminidase inhibitors for preventing and treating influenza in healthy adults and children

This is the report that has sparked the latest flurry of debate. The full document is over 550 pages long, so readers pressed for time may wish to have a look at the abstract first.

NHS Choices: Behind the Headlines

Effectiveness of Tamiflu and Relenza questioned

This is a fantastic summary provided by Bazian on behalf of NHS Choices. Casual and lay readers should start here!


Open data – Tamiflu campaign

The BMJ has worked alongside the Cochrane Collaboration to obtain access to the complete data from Roche’s trials of Tamiflu, as part of a wider campaign for drug trial transparency and open data. This page gives a good summary of the campaign, and includes an interactive timeline covering 2003 to 2012.

The BMJ also published an editorial piece to coincide with the Cochrane Review on 10th April.

Commons Select Committee

Lack of consensus over how well Tamiflu actually works

The Public Accounts Committee, prompted by an earlier version of the Cochrane Review in 2012, undertook an investigation into the stockpiling of Tamiflu by the UK government, and the report of this investigation was published in January this year. The committee made several recommendations to the Department of Health, the MHRA and NICE, some of which will be underpinned by the results of the latest Cochrane Review.

National Audit Office

Access to clinical trial information and the stockpiling of Tamiflu

The NAO provided background information to members of the Public Accounts Committee during the course of their investigation. The executive summary at the above link was presented to the PAC in May 2013, but still provides some useful context on the investigation and its findings.

News Coverage

From BBC News: Tamiflu: Millions wasted on flu drug, claims major report
From the Guardian: Government spent further £49m on Tamiflu despite known doubts about it
From the Independent: The drugs don’t work: Britain wasted £600m of taxpayers’ money on useless flu pills
From the Telegraph: ‘Toxic’ flu drug to be reviewed by drugs regulator
From the Herald: Flu drug research leads to appeals for review
From BBC World Service: Tamiflu No Better Than Paracetamol? (Audio, features Dr Barry Clinch of Roche & Dr Carl Heneghan – one of the scientists who carried out the study)

Media Opinion

Ben Goldacre in the Guardian: What the Tamiflu saga tells us about drug trials and big pharma
Mary Dejevsky in the Independent: The Government should not be blamed for the Tamiflu scandal

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