Tamiflu ingredient found in Maine trees

A little known ingredient in the drug Tamiflu, once thought to only be available in China, has been found accessible in pine trees in Maine.

Experts from the University of Maine at Orono have found a way to extract shikimic acid from the needles of pine trees, according to

The method is relatively easy. Shikimic acid can be removed from the needles of white pine, red pine and other conifers by simply boiling them in water, according to chemistry professor Ray Fort, Jr.

Additional testing is needed, Fort told, and it is necessary to see what demand exists and whether or not the product can be applied commercially.

Swiss drug giant Roche Holding AG currently holds the patent on Tamiflu, which is produced by its partners. Tamiflu is the world’s most widely distributed antiviral drug for treating influenza, including swine and bird flu. Its major source currently is star anise, an unusually shaped fruit that grows on small trees native to China.

"Our thought is we can probably get shikimic acid a lot cheaper than they're currently getting it elsewhere because the pine needles are just sitting there," Fort said, according to "It may turn out this isn't economically useful if they are successful in coming up with a large-scale synthesis of their own. That's the chance you take."

Fort’s research has been funded by a variety of sources, including the Maine Technology Institute, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the National Science Foundation and the university’s chemistry department.