This year’s flu epidemic has hit hard, providing a shot in the arm for sales of Tamiflu, a prescription drug approved to alleviate influenza’s symptoms.
The antiviral medication is in high demand “due to an early and moderately severe flu season,” according to California-based Genentech Corp., a biotech business that’s part of the Roche Group. Right now there is a temporary shortage of the form of Tamiflu, as a liquid taken orally, typically used to treat children, as well as a shortage of several flu vaccines.
Nonetheless, Karen Andersen, a senior analyst with Morningstar in Chicago, is projecting Tamiflu sales this year will hit $750 million, more than twice its sales of $350 million during the 2011-12 flu season. But since Roche Group’s revenue from Tamiflu is volatile and fluctuates widely from year to year, Andersen said that even the huge bump in sales won’t have much of an impact on the parent company’s stock or year-end sales.
She said investors will “tend to discount” Tamiflu’s sales doubling, “unless it’s something like we saw with the stocking for the pandemic flus, something really monumental where they see billions in sales due to the various government stockpiles.” The Tamiflu increase will only add about 1 percent to Roche’s $44.8 billion in projected sales, Andersen said.
Genentech is “working diligently” to restore its supply of Tamiflu, a company spokeswoman said.
“We communicated with wholesalers and distributors in December to inform them of temporary delays in new shipments of Tamiflu Oral Suspension (the liquid version),” Genentech spokeswoman Tara Iannuccillo said in an email. “We are working to expedite new shipments of Tamiflu OS to distributors as new supplies become available. It is important to note that currently there is sufficient supply of Tamiflu 75mg capsules.”
Tamiflu has been the subject of some controversy and debate over its efficacy in treating the symptoms of flu, but Genentech defended the drug’s effectiveness.
“Numerous clinical trials and real-life medical experience show Tamiflu is effective in reducing the severity and duration of influenza symptoms,” Iannuccillo said. “Tamiflu helps lessen the duration and severity of influenza by blocking the virus’ ability to replicate in the body.
Andersen doesn’t think questions about the drug’s effectiveness will affect sales.
“There are really limited options for what people can turn to if they’re looking for a treatment for flu, so I think that would continue to serve as a rationale for using an approved drug,” Andersen said.