MSF calls for J&J to cut price of TB medicine

The humanitarian medical organisation Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has called on Johnson & Johnson to cut the price of its anti-tuberculosis medicine Sirturo (bedaquiline), to not more than $1 per day to improve access in badly-affected areas.

The non-governmental organisation said the radical move is needed to reduce deaths from drug-resistant tuberculosis, asking J&J to consider the joint contributions made during development, including from MSF itself.

According to MSF’s figures the lowest Johnson & Johnson price for 20 months of Sirturo is $1,200, and MSF is demanding that this should be cut to $600.

MSF argued that since the WHO recommended use of Sirturo a year, less than 12,000 people have been treated with it, a tiny fraction of the 558,000 people who develop drug resistant TB annually.

MSF added that Sirturo was developed with “considerable” support from taxpayers, non-profit organisations and philanthropic support.

The TB research community, health ministries, and treatment providers including MSF played a key role in developing Sirturo, the organisation said.

MSF noted that J&J alone owns the patent on the drug, and can decide which countries it can be sold.

J&J also gained a financial windfall from the Priority Review Voucher given to it by the FDA in return for developing a new antibiotic, which it used to accelerate approval for its psoriasis drug Tremfya.

“Rapid rollout of better-tolerated treatment containing bedaquiline will happen only if J&J makes it widely available in an affordable way, including by allowing other TB drug manufacturers to make generic versions,” MSF argued.

MSF’s comments come at a time when there is a pressing need for more research into new antibiotics.

R&D into antibiotics has stalled for several decades because pharma companies do not think they will get a return on their investment in the area.

MSF’s campaign highlights the issue facing commercial organisations such as big pharma when developing drugs such as antibiotics, which must be used sparingly to prevent development of resistant strains and in areas of the world where healthcare systems cannot pay premium prices seen in countries such as the US.

Despite the best efforts of governments to bridge the gap between pharma’s need to make a profit from their investment, and the developing world’s need for cheap drugs, it looks as if the issue of stagnant antibiotic R&D is here to stay.

A spokesperson for J&J said in a statement that the company fully funded all 14 studies that formed the basis of its regulatory filing with the FDA – including 11 Phase 1 studies and 3 Phase 2 studies.

The company added that through a four-year donation program operated in partnership with the US Agency for International Development and JSC Pharmstandard, J&J committed to provide 105,000 courses of treatment, free of charge, to 80 countries through the end of 2019.

Sirturo is now available not-for-profit price of $400 for to more than 130 countries globally, the company said, enabling it to support manufacturing, distribution, regulatory activities, post-approval R&D commitments, health systems strengthening, and surveillance programs to safeguard its effectiveness.  This price is on par with or cheaper than some decades-old generic medicines, such as  linezolid and clofazimine, the company added.

Updated to include statement from J&J


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