#6: 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?


This episode has loads more information, citations, and resources. You can also find related articles on our website, citedpodcast.com. Including articles by our research assistant, Franklynn Bartol, on topics like: industry funding of patient advocacy groups, the meaning (and limitations) of ‘evidence-based medicine,’ and the broader research literature on industry funding and why it’s a problem


An earlier version of this podcast said that drug companies now must publish all their trial data before a drug goes to market. In fact, the FDA requires that the companies must register their trial data on a government website, ClinicalTrials.gov. This excludes non-randomized observational trials and a few other earlier, prospective studies. The script was changed to reflect that correction.


To keep up with Cited, follow us on Twitter and Facebook. Plus, send us your feedback to info@citedmedia.ca–we might just read it on the show. We’re also doing a mug giveaway this episode. If you’d like one (for free), please do us a favour: tell one of your friends about Cited. Email or text them and send me a screengrab. We’ll randomly pick three of the people who email me, and you’ll get a free Cited mug.


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 checking 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 BarberDakota 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 Laboratories at the University of British Columbia — that’s on the unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh Nations.

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