US-based Alexion Pharmaceuticals is distributing its Soliris drug free of charge to the victims of the E coli epidemic spreading in Germany, the company has announced.

The company said in a regulatory filing with the US Securities and Exchance Commission that it has launched an access programme to help physicians treat patients with toxin-producing E coli haemolytic uremic syndrome (EHEC).

Over 1,500 confirmed cases of the bacteria-induced disease have been reported, 17 of them with a fatal outcome.

Soliris, has not been formally approved as a treatment for patients with STEC-HUS in Germany or elsewhere, reports the Republican American, but it has been approved by the FDA to treat paroxysmal nocturnal haemoglobinuria, a rare form of anemia.

Infection often leads to haemorrhagic diarrhoea, and occasionally to kidney failure.

Normally, the Soliris drug costs patients and their insurers $300,000 to $400,000 a year.