Season 01:Episode 06
The Tamiflu Trials
Medical experts are rushing to see which drugs might help treat COVID-19. There are dozens of candidates: Remdesivir, Hydroxycloroquin, Actemra, Kevzara, Favipiravir, the list goes on. They better pick the right one; because billions of dollars of public money is at stake, not to mention 100s of thousands -- if not millions -- of lives.
We don’t know what will happen with COVID-19 drug research. But the story of past pandemics might give us a clue. To prepare for Swine Flu and Bird Flu, governments spent billions stockpiling a drug called Tamiflu. You’d think governments used the best evidence-based advice, but the story of Tamiflu raises questions about how money shaped the process.
On this episode, we open up the black box of pharmaceutical and public health expertise. We tell the story of a drug, from its days as middling flu treatment through its meteoric rise to international blockbuster. How do experts decide what makes a good drug, and how do pharmaceutical companies make billions from pandemic panic?
- Deborah Cohen is a correspondent for BBC Newsnight, and former investigative journalist and editor at the BMJ
- Tom Jefferson is an epidemiologist and Cochrane researcher.
- Melanie Sinclair is a former medical ghost writer
- Jeanne Lenzer is an independent investigative journalist and author.
- Stephen Toovey is an infectious disease doctor and Roche-affiliated consultant and researcher
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Burns, William. “How Tamiflu Became a Global Blockbuster.” Financial Times, 6 Sept. 2009,
Cohen, D. “Complications: Tracking down the Data on Oseltamivir.” Bmj, vol. 339, no. dec08 3, 2009, doi:10.1136/bmj.b5387.
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This episode was produced by Audrey Quinn and Gordon Katic. Editing from Acey Rowe and Gordon Katic. Franklynn Bartol was our research assistant, with fact cehcking from Aurora Tejeida and Polly Leger. Dr. Joel Lexchin and Professor Sergio Sismondo provided research guidance.
Our theme song and original music is by our composer, Mike Barber. Dakota Koop is our graphic designer. Our production manager is David Tobiasz, and executive producers are Gordon Katic and Sam Fenn.
Thanks to Hannah Arbour for Japanese translation, and Shungo Kano for voicing.
This episode was funded in part by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada. This is part of wider project looking at trends in pharmaceutical research and policy. Dr. Joel Lexchin at the University of Toronto and Professor Sergio Sismondo at Queens University in Kingston are the research advisors on that project.
Cited is produced out of the Centre of Ethics at the University of Toronto, which is on the traditional land of Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat Peoples.
Cited is also produced out of the Michael Smith Laboratory at the University of British Columbia -- that’s on the unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh Nations.