Local pharmaceutical companies are expressing their disappointment as the government decided to provide Roche’s Tamiflu, a treatment for influenza, to prevent the spread of flu in North Korea.
Seoul has decided to provide 200,000 doses of Tamiflu for North Korea accepting the North’s request to give the original Tamiflu. However, domestic companies are questioning the government’s decision as there are numerous generics for Tamiflu developed by local pharmaceuticals.
"It seems that there is a problem with the government's decision to send foreign drugs to North Korea,” a local company official who markets a generic version of Tamiflu said to Korea Biomedical Review, asking to remain anonymous. “Various local companies have a history of supplying generic versions of Tamiflu to the government, and the efficacy of Roche Tamiflu and Korean generics is similar."
Many local companies are questioning the government’s decision to use a foreign drug even though domestic generics have the same potential, he added.
Some people suspect that the government may have accepted the North’s request even though there is a possibility that Pyongyang may sell the vaccine rather than using them.
“I do not understand why the government decided to send expensive original medicines while recommending the use of cheaper generics in South Korea,” a Netizen said. “Moreover, officials here are fully aware that the North might sell the vaccines after receiving them.”
In response, the government pointed out that North Korea only used Roche Tamiflu during the influenza epidemic.
"North Korea has used only the original Tamiflu so far," said Kim Jin-sook, head of the inter-Korean cooperation task force at the Ministry of Health and Welfare. “Both the World Health Organization and our government have also supplied Tamiflu in the past to help the North.”
Kim recalled the former Lee Myung-bak administration provided 400,000 doses of Tamiflu to the North in 2009.
However, local companies say the situation has since changed since, noting that unlike in the past, the patent for the drug has expired and there are now dozens of generics for Tamiflu.
Despite the controversy, the government is sticking to its decision citing that sending a generic version of Tamiflu would take more time.
“It will be difficult to negotiate with North Korea to provide generic drugs, because the provision of aid is a time-sensitive job, and we will have to go through a bidding process to send generics which can take time,” Kim said.
Some local companies have also agreed with the government’s decision to send the original drug to the north.
“I think that the government’s plan to send the original Tamiflu is reasonable,” a local pharmaceutical company official told Korea Biomedical Review, also asking for anonymity. “From the international point of view, South and North Korea are two countries and most pharmaceutical aid to another country is done with original drugs, while generic aid is mostly unheard of.”
Also, as there are so many generics for Tamiflu it will take numerous times for the government to select a supplier, he added.