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MSF: Johnson & Johnson must make TB drug available for all at $1/day

MSF protests at J&J’s annual shareholders meeting to demand TB drug be made available and affordable.

Thursday, April 25, 2019 — At the Johnson & Johnson annual shareholders meeting today in New Jersey, USA, the international medical humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) demanded that the corporation reduce the price of the tuberculosis (TB) drug bedaquiline to US$1 per day to reflect the joint research efforts made to bring this drug to patients. While MSF recognises J&J’s significant efforts to develop this effective drug, the corporation should take urgent steps to make it affordable and accessible for all people who need it.

Bedaquiline, which replaces older, more toxic TB treatments, was developed with considerable taxpayer, non-profit and philanthropic support. Operational research carried out by MSF and others was key in generating evidence of bedaquiline’s effectiveness against drug-resistant forms of TB. Additional clinical trials, by MSF and others, are underway that could further inform treatment options containing the drug. Despite these joint efforts, J&J sets the price for bedaquiline at its own discretion, effectively deciding who can have access.

People who can’t access the drug are forced to endure older, toxic treatments, including painful daily injections, that can cause devastating side effects such as permanent deafness and psychosis.

“J&J did not develop this important drug alone, and those who contributed to its development should have a say in how bedaquiline is made accessible at an affordable price for people who need it to stay alive and healthy,” said Dr Els Torreele, Executive Director of MSF’s Access Campaign. “We welcome J&J’s contributions in developing this new and more effective drug, but we can’t rely on company charity programmes to deliver the drugs we need to address global pandemics. For the development of bedaquiline, much of the critical work to demonstrate its therapeutic value was done by the TB community of researchers, ministries of health, and treatment providers, and financed by the public. These contributions must be recognised.”

“Given the joint effort and public investment that went into developing this drug, they should not decide on its price and availability alone," said Sharonann Lynch, HIV & TB Policy Advisor for MSF’s Access Campaign. "Bedaquiline is a gamechanger in fighting TB, the world’s deadliest infectious disease. But what good is a lifesaving drug if the people who need it most can’t get it?”

J&J currently sells bedaquiline for $400 per six-month treatment course to countries eligible to buy the drug through the Global Drug Facility, a TB drug and diagnostic procurement mechanism that is part of Stop TB Partnership, operating out of a UN agency. J&J has not disclosed prices for the drug in other countries. Researchers from the University of Liverpool have calculated that bedaquiline could be produced and sold at a profit for much less – as little as 25 cents per day if at least 108,000 treatment courses are sold per year. 

After repeated public calls to J&J to recognise this joint effort and price this medicine more affordably, MSF sent a letter to the corporation in September 2018 to argue the case, but has yet to receive a response.

“J&J needs to agree to sell it for no more than $1 per day. The public has already paid for this drug; it’s time the public has affordable access to it,” said Lynch.

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Last Updated: 29-Apr-2019