Tamiflu Benefits, Safety Overstated, Researchers Say

New independent research is questioning the effectiveness and safety of the ubiquitous flu drug Tamiflu.

According to a Bloomberg report, the research firm Cochrane Collaboration was commissioned by the U.K. National Institute for Health Research to investigation the perceived benefits to taking Tamiflu and any potential side effects to the drug. The research firm examined 10 clinical trials of Tamiflu, manufactured by Swiss company Roche Holding AG.

The research notes that people taking Tamiflu generally feel better one day quicker than those not taking the drug after first experiencing symptoms of influenza. The effectiveness of it reducing the symptoms of the flu by nearly a day are not questioned by the researchers. What came into question was the decision by governments around the world to stockpile the drug in attempts to reduce the spread of pandemic flu.

In 2009, stockpiles of Tamiflu were amassed by the U.S. and other governments in the wake of the H1:N1 Swine flu pandemic. The Cochrane researchers believe stockpiling Tamiflu proved to have no benefit, only to Roche which banked more than $3 billion in sales of the drug in that year, alone.

Specifically, people taking Tamiflu for the treatment of flu symptoms does not reduce the risk of being hospitalized for treatment. The researchers blame Roche’s withholding of eight clinical studies of Tamiflu’s effectiveness and safety for blurring government and physician belief on the effectiveness of the drug. When Roche finally agreed to release the findings of clinical studies completed on Tamiflu, the Cochrane researchers said the drug company only released the beginnings of those reports. It got the rest of that research through the European Medicines Agency.

Based on the information it has, Cochrane said it still was unsure if Tamiflu was an effective treatment in stopping the spread of flu and the complications associated with it.

Comparing the published and unpublished reports, Cochrane researchers noted glaring differences in the information, specifically related to the potential side effects of taking Tamiflu. According to the Bloomberg report, “one published trial listed no drug-related serious side effects, while the unpublished version listed three …”

The Cochrane report was published in British Medical Journal. Journal editors told Bloomberg they “remain to be convinced” of the value of Tamiflu specifically in reducing the length of flu-like symptoms. BMJ believes the public should have unfettered access to any clinical data collected on Tamiflu before deciding whether it is an effective treatment of influenza.

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