J&J cuts TB drug price by 55% after giving up patent rights 

Johnson & Johnson, tuberculosis, patent rights, generic competition, Sirturo, bedaquiline

Just seven weeks after announcing its willingness to permit generic competition for the drug-resistant tuberculosis (TB) treatment Sirturo (bedaquiline) in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), Johnson & Johnson (J&J) has taken a remarkable step by significantly reducing the price of its own drug in those markets.

In a groundbreaking move, J&J has adjusted the pricing strategy, making the drug accessible at $130 for a six-month course in LMICs. This marks a remarkable 55% reduction from its previous price point. In parallel, Lupin, a pharmaceutical company, has followed suit by offering a 33% price reduction for its generic version of bedaquiline, setting it at $194. This strategic pivot has been unveiled by the United Nations-backed Stop TB Partnership, a critical advocate in global healthcare initiatives.

Merely a month ago, J&J declared its decision to refrain from enforcing secondary patents on Sirturo in LMICs, effectively paving the way for the emergence of generic competition across numerous countries globally.

Online campaign by young adult book author John Green, who on 11 July posted a video to Twitter and YouTube assailing J&J for a practice known as“patent evergreening” in which companies make minor modifications to drugs in order to extend the period of patent protection. “When you attempt to evergreen a patent, [J&J], even though you know the decision will cost hundreds of thousands of human lives over the next 4 years, you’re tarnishing your corporate reputation,” 

Originally approved in 2012, Sirturo (bedaquiline) broke a 40-year drought in new TB drug approvals. While the primary patent for Sirturo expired recently, J&J’s patents for improvements in the formulation extended its protection until 2027.

This courageous pricing reduction is anticipated to significantly augment bedaquiline’s accessibility, a critical stride toward achieving the ambitious goal of eradicating TB by 2030. Atul Gawande, the Assistant Administrator of USAID’s Global Health Bureau, highlighted the impact of the reduced prices, emphasizing that this shift will be instrumental in amplifying efforts to combat TB.

“I am very grateful to J&J and the Stop TB Partnership and all the TB activists who made this happen. Being able to [provide] generic bedaquiline in most of the countries where the patent has been extended is a big, important critical step.”

– John Green

The global scenario for drug-resistant TB is stark, affecting around 450,000 individuals worldwide. The price cuts for bedaquiline are forecasted to generate substantial savings of $8 million over 16 months, enabling the procurement of an additional 51,000 doses for the Global Drug Facility under the Stop TB Partnership.

J&J’s decision to relinquish secondary patents was ignited by a viral Twitter post from author John Green. In the wake of social media criticism, the company swiftly took measures to align with the Stop TB Partnership, thereby validating its commitment to global health equity.

Earlier this year, Doctors Without Borders had appealed to J&J to relinquish secondary patent protection, underlining the potential for a two-thirds reduction in bedaquiline’s price. Countries heavily burdened by drug-resistant TB, like Nigeria, are set to greatly benefit from these changes, potentially reaching thousands of individuals in dire need of treatment.

This strategic transformation underscores the pivotal role of pharmaceutical companies in driving equitable healthcare solutions and signifies a crucial step forward in the fight against drug-resistant tuberculosis.

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