Zug, 18.10.2019

Protest outside Johnson & Johnson campus calls for tuberculosis drug to be made more widely available

Some 35 representatives of the Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) organisation held a protest outside the city campus of Johnson & Johnson (J&J) yesterday. They claim the pharmaceutical company could do more to make a tuberculosis treatment they have developed more widely available.

According to the World Health Organisation, 490,000 people became infected with multiple-resistant tuberculosis over the course of 2016, one problem being that, for over 40 years, no new medication against such infections had been developed. However, J&J have since developed Bedaquilin. The problem is, as Lara Dovifat of the MSF organisation said, that, with J&J’s price policy, 80 per cent of patients have no access to the drug. “Hence older treatments are used with the devastating side effects they have such as loss of hearing and psychosis,” she said, which is why MSF is calling for J&J to reduce the cost of this medicine to $1 per patient per day.

Hence, too, the distribution of flyers to make both employees of the company and the general public aware. “Bearing in mind how much public money has gone into developing the drug, it should be made available to a wider public,” said Dovifat, who added that, according to a study from the University of Liverpool, even if the medicine was sold at 25 cents per patient per day, J&J could still make a profit.

According to Thomas Moser, a J&J spokesman, the company, like MSF, wants all patients who need Bedaquilin to be able to have access to it. By means of a four-year donation programme, led by the United States Agency for International Development and the JSC Pharmstandard, J&J has committed itself to provide 105,000 treatment programmes free of charge in 80 countries. Indeed, only last week did the company announce that, over the next four years, it would be spending $500 million in treatments relating to tuberculosis and HIV. Furthermore, Moser said that Bedaquilin was already available for $400 in more than 130 countries, at a price J&J realises will not contribute to profits. In addition, the company has been working with a number of governments and other partners to help in the fight against tuberculosis, not least in training health staff.

“We know about the $400 price, but this still means $2 per day per patient and this relates to a treatment time of six months only. In our experience, patients need medication for a longer period than this. Hence we are sticking to our demands. Only when the price is reduced to $1 per day will the treatment be able to be included in the health systems of poorer countries,” insisted Dovifat.