Roche's Tamiflu ads spark criticism

If Roche has its way, a gaggle of happy penguins will charm consumers into stocking up on flu drug Tamiflu. Using penguin characters from a current children's feature as a theme, Roche Pharmaceuticals has developed a multi-million dollar ad campaign to create demand for the costly medication. Tamiflu, which has attracted international attention as a possible stopgap in the war against bird flu, is designed to slow flu progression and minimize symptoms. The ads, which come just before the start of flu season, don't mention Tamiflu specifically. Critics say the promotion is irresponsible. Dr. Jerry Avorn, a Harvard Medical School professor, argues that the drug's benefits are minimal. Worse, he suggests that if consumers use Tamiflu heavily, Americans will develop a resistance to the drug and won't benefit from it if and when bird flu does become a pandemic. The drug is already proving to be a bonanza for Roche. The pharmaco reported that Tamiflu sales rose to $1.3 billion during the third quarter of this year, an increase of 88 percent over the Q3 '05. Report