Demonstration organised by MSF in 2020 outside the New York stock exchange to demand a reduction in the price of bedaquiline.

Tuberculosis: an essential drug finally available at an affordable price

On Thursday, October 5, 2023

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This huge success is a testament to the persistent efforts of tuberculosis activists, civil society and also countries prioritising public health over corporations’ interests," says Christophe Perrin, a pharmacist in the tuberculosis department of MSF's Access to Medicines campaign.

In 2012, a new anti-tuberculosis drug called bedaquiline was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, marking a major step forward in the fight against the disease. Combined with a second, equally innovative drug, it has made it possible to drastically shorten the treatment period for patients, reduce side effects and significantly increase the chances of survival. Unfortunately, its high cost has always been a barrier to its full and widespread use, particularly in low- and middle-income countries.

The initial crack in Johnson & Johnson 's patent shield occurred when the Indian Patent Office rejected the corporation’s secondary patent application for the fumarate salt of bedaquiline – a cynical attempt by J&J to lengthen their monopoly beyond the already given 20 years”, continues Christophe Perrin.

Following this decision, the national tuberculosis treatment programmes of Ukraine and Belarus asked Johnson & Johnson to surrender its secondary patents in their countries and in other countries heavily affected by the disease. In addition, the South African Competition Commission's investigation into the high prices of TB drugs, launched in September 2023, put significant pressure on the pharmaceutical company, which eventually relinquished its patents.

We need all newer tuberculosis innovations to be as affordable as absolutely possible, so governments can scale up prevention, testing and treatment to beat back this curable disease,” says Christophe Perrin.

However, the fight for access to essential TB medicines continues. The associations are calling for an end to patents on a second innovative drug, delamanid.

We now want the Japanese pharmaceutical company Otsuka to follow suit and publicly announce that it will not apply secondary patents to delamanid in low- and middle-income countries," concludes Christophe Perrin. "These patents are about to expire in India and other countries, and this drug plays a key role in the fight against resistant tuberculosis and is particularly important for treating children".