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Gov'ts hold 220 million Tamiflu doses: Roche

BASEL, Switzerland -- Some 220 million doses of Tamiflu, the vaccine against bird flu, are in the hands of governments worldwide, the Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche said Wednesday.

“There are 220 million treatments in the hand of governments for a first line treatment,” Williams Burns, head of Roche's pharma division, said at a news conference.

Burns called the quantity of Tamiflu held by governments a relatively “modest level of preparedness” given that the world population stands at over six billion people.

He also confirmed that sales of the drug dropped last year as expected by 68 percent, or 1.6 billion Swiss francs (1.07 billion euros, US$1.38 billion).

The company announced Wednesday that its full-year net profit fell five percent to 10.84 billion Swiss francs (7.3 billion euros), sapped by currency effects.

Around 250 people have died from bird flu worldwide since 2003, mostly in Asian countries, according to the World Health Organization.

The H5N1 virus typically spreads from birds to humans through direct contact, but experts fear it could mutate into a form easily transmissible between humans, with the potential to kill millions in a pandemic.

Studies cited by Roche indicate that administering Tamiflu to an entire population during a flu pandemic would limit fatal cases to 1.3 deaths per 1,000 people, compared to 6.8 deaths per 1,000 if nothing is given.

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