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Written by: Staff

DHAKA, Apr 3 (Reuters) A Bangladesh company plans to ramp up production of a local version of Tamiflu for export, as nations around the world stockpile the anti-viral drug to try to limit the impact of a feared pandemic of bird flu.

Tamiflu, made by Swiss drug maker Roche, is among a very small number of drugs that can help limit the severity of the H5N1 avian flu virus in humans if given early enough.

Beximco Pharmaceuticals Limited (BPL), the country's leading drug manufacturer, said it planned to export its version of Tamiflu, called Oseflu, a senior company official said today.

''We have already produced 5,000 capsules and will have another 200,000 in next two months for export,'' said Nazmul Hassan, chief executive officer of BPL, which is listed in Bangladesh and Britain.

Oseflu would also be introduced in the domestic market if needed, Hassan said.

He said Beximco would charge $1.80 per capsule from local and overseas buyers.

Hassan said the company did not have a licence to make the drug from Roche, and at present all ingredients were imported but it would try to produce the ingredients locally in the future.

Tamiflu is not protected by a patent in Bangladesh.

No cases of bird flu have been reported in Bangladesh. But health officials have said the country is potentially at risk after outbreaks in neighbouring India and Myanmar.

''Bangladesh is completely free of bird flu and we have a strong network to detect and prevent the disease in the country,'' Health Minister Khondakar Mosharraf Hossain said today.

Bangladesh has banned poultry imports from 25 bird flu-hit countries, including India, tightened its borders and seized and destroyed some 100,000 poultry and young chickens smuggled from India.

Avian flu has spread at an alarming rate in recent months, sweeping through parts of Europe, into Africa, and flaring anew in Asia. It has killed at least 105 people since it re-emerged in late 2003 and experts fear the virus could mutate into a form that can be easily passed among people, triggering a pandemic.

Roche said last month it was boosting output of Tamiflu by a third to meet increased demand from governments building stockpiles.

The Basel-based group said it would lift production by an additional 100 million treatments to a total of 400 million treatments by the end of the year, after striking deals with external producers.


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