Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche confirmed that it is in talks with 15 companies in the U.S. about stepping up the production of Tamiflu, the bird-flu drug.
The partnership would dramatically increase the world's supply of Tamiflu as countries are stockpiling the drug in preparation for a possible bird 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 specialized 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, "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."
"Roche has made the right decision," Schumer said. "Instead of closely holding their patent rights and production techniques, in the face of a global health risk, they've moved swiftly to partner with multiple companies to dramatically increase production of this potentially life-saving drug."
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. Doctors believe it may help control a pandemic of H5N1 avian influenza, although evidence suggests it may be less effective than it is against seasonal influenza.
The drug, invented by California-based Gilead Sciences Inc., is in short supply. Countries are seeking to stockpile it but all are many million doses short of what would be needed to treat a pandemic of any sort of influenza, if there is one.
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.