FDA staff urge psych warnings for two flu drugs

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Food and Drug Administration staffers are recommending new warnings about psychiatric events observed in some patients taking Roche Holding AG’s Tamiflu and GlaxoSmithKline Plc’s Relenza, according to documents released on Friday.

A warehouse manager takes a carton of Tamiflu, which contains the antiviral drug oseltamivir, for packing at a pharmaceuticals storage facility in Singapore March 21, 2007. U.S. Food and Drug Administration staff are recommending new warnings about psychiatric events observed in patients on Roche Holding AG's <ROG.VX> Tamiflu and GlaxoSmithKline Plc's <GSK.L> Relenza, according to documents posted on Friday. REUTERS/Nicky Loh

An FDA advisory panel will review the recommendations for the anti-viral influenza drugs at a meeting next week.

The FDA held a similar meeting two years ago in response to reports of a dozen deaths of children in Japan who had been taking Tamiflu.

Experts then found no evidence of a direct connection between the drug and the deaths, although the FDA did ultimately update Tamiflu’s label to add a caution urging close monitoring of patients for abnormal behavior such as delirium or self-injury.

In documents prepared for the meeting next week and posted on the FDA’s Web site, agency staff recommended that Tamiflu’s label be strengthened to note: “In some cases, these behaviors resulted in serious injuries, including death, in adult and pediatric patients.”

The FDA staff also reviewed Relenza, a drug in the same class as Tamiflu, recommending its label be changed to note “reports of hallucinations, delirium and abnormal behavior” observed in some patients taking the drug.

The current Relenza label has no label warning related to psychiatric events.

The FDA staff said the evidence is “conflicting” as to whether the events are medication-related, a manifestation of disease or a combination of the two.

Tamiflu has been more widely used in Japan than in the United States, and there is some evidence that the Japanese are more vigilant about reporting side effects, the FDA has said.

Tamiflu, known generically as oseltamivir, is a pill, while Relenza, generically zanamivir, is inhaled.

A Roche spokesman said no causal relationship between Tamiflu and these psychiatric events has been proven.

“Roche has extensively investigated the issue and is conducting ongoing clinical and nonclinical studies. Roche takes all adverse events reports very seriously,” spokesman Terence Hurley said in a statement.

About 48 million people have taken Tamiflu worldwide, including 21 million children, since approval in 1999, he said.

A Glaxo spokeswoman said a review of premarketing and post-approval trial data showed no worrying safety signals on patients taking Relenza. The drug is a not a major revenue-generator for UK-based Glaxo.

FDA staff based its recommendations on a review of nearly 600 cases of neuropsychiatric events reported by patients on Tamiflu and 115 cases of such events by patients taking Relenza.

The FDA staff will present the advice to the advisory panel of experts meeting on Tuesday, November 27. The agency typically takes the advice of these panels but is not bound by them.


Japan in March warned against prescribing Tamiflu to those ages 10 to 19 as more than 100 people, mostly young, showed signs of abnormal behavior after taking the drug.

Earlier this year, Japan broadened its probe of Tamiflu to look at flu drugs Relenza and amantadine, after reports of abnormal behavior among young patients.

FDA staff reviewed recent side effect reports on amantadine and rimantadine, another flu drug in amantadine’s class, but recommended no label changes. Amantadine already has a strong warning about suicide attempts and an increase in seizures seen in patients on the drug, while rimantadine notes seizure-like activity and hallucinations.

Tamiflu was having lackluster sales as a drug to prevent and treat seasonal flu but got a second life when it was the first drug to show real efficacy in treating and preventing bird flu.

The FDA staff documents for the advisory meeting were posted at: here dex-27and28.html.

(Additional reporting by Ben Hirschler in London)

Reporting by Kim Dixon; Editing by Gerald E. McCormick and Carol Bishopric