Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche says it is in talks with a number of companies in the United States aimed at stepping up production of bird-flu drug Tamiflu.
The partnership would dramatically increase the world's supply of Tamiflu as countries gather stockpiles of the drug in preparation for a possible flu pandemic.
The Basel-based firm confirmed on Thursday that it was in talks with Teva Pharmaceuticals and Mylan Laboratories, but declined to provide the names of any other companies.
"Roche is in advanced discussions with potential partners that can help enhance its supply chain and add capacity for certain specialised steps in the manufacturing of Tamiflu," the company said in a statement.
It added that it was "moving ahead as planned with third-party discussions" and would publish further details at a later date.
The statement came after US Senator Charles Schumer said that Teva and Mylan were among 15 companies that would work with Roche to increase Tamiflu supply.
"The purpose is not to break the patent on Tamiflu, but rather to meet an emergency need for quantities of this drug that Roche itself simply cannot do alone," said Schumer.
The drug is in short supply in many parts of the world because of the fear of bird flu, a form of influenza that has been contracted by humans who have had close contact with infected poultry.
Tamiflu is one of four drugs known to work against influenza. It does not cure the virus but can reduce the severity of infection.
Last month Roche said Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines were free to begin making their own versions of the drug because it does not have patent protection in these countries.
Roche has agreed to deliver Tamiflu to around 50 countries, but the company said that timeframes for delivery varied.
"Roche will have increased its own production capacity by the end of 2006 and will then be in a position to potentially produce 300 million treatments of Tamiflu annually," spokesman Daniel Piller told swissinfo.
swissinfo with agencies
Tamiflu was invented by California-based Gilead and licensed to Roche in 1996.
The oral treatment has proven effective against influenza A and B and the avian H5N1 strain of influenza currently circulating in the Far East.
In preparation for a possible bird flu pandemic, governments are stockpiling the drug. So far Roche has received bulk orders from around 50 countries.