Tuesday, 16 April, 2024
HomeFocusJ&J drops price of lifesaver TB drug

J&J drops price of lifesaver TB drug

After unprecedented intervention by the Competition Commission and an outcry over Johnson & Johnson's (J&J) alleged bullying tactics over the price of key medicines, the pharmaceutical giant has agreed to drop the price of bedaquiline in South Africa by more than 40%, writes MedicalBrief.

This comes after negotiations with the National Department of Health regarding the cost of the drug used to treat drug-resistant TB (DR-TB), in a decision welcomed by activists, and  follows mounting pressure amid an ongoing investigation by the Competition Commission into J&J’s pricing, reports GroundUp.

Before bedaquiline became available, treatment for DR-TB would consist of up to two years of injections with serious side effects. The bedaquiline-containing regimen has no injectables, far fewer side effects and is typically six months.

Bedaquiline has been provided by the government since 2018.

In July, J&J agreed to sell bedaquiline to lower and middle-income countries through the Stop TB Partnership’s Global Drug Facility for R2 470 per six-month regime, but South Africa does not make use of this facility due to national procurement policies.

Instead, about the same time that J&J made this announcement, the national Health Department agreed to pay J&J R5 500 for the drug.

In September, the Competition Commission announced that it would be investigating J&J’s pricing.

Last week, Health Department spokesperson Foster Mohale said the Commission had assisted the department in renegotiating the price, and it has subsequently issued a circular indicating it would be paying R3 148 for bedaquiline – a 40% saving on the drug for the next two years.

Candice Sehome, Access Campaign Advocacy Adviser for Medicines Sans Frontiere (MSF), said the “momentous” cost saving was a “big achievement”, and a sign that the global campaign to ensure accessible and affordable treatment for TB was yielding results.

MSF has estimated that bedaquiline could be manufactured and sold for profit for as little as R1 940.

Fatima Hassan, director of the Health Justice Initiative, said while the price drop was a victory, it was important to ensure that this did not happen again.

“The significant price reduction emphasises why price scrutiny is significant,” she said.

Health-e News notes that patents and the cost of bedaquiline have been a point of concern for at least the past decade and calls have been mounting on the pharmaceutical company to reduce the cost.

When combined with other drugs, used together with bedaquiline, the department was spending in the region of R20 000 per patient for a six-months' treatment for MDR-TB. Around 7 000 to 8 000 MDR-TB people are treated for MDR-TB each year in South Africa.

Mohale says that the government began renegotiating for new prices for bedaquiline with J&J around August 2023 with the assistance of the Competition Commission.

Mohale says that the National Department of Health will now save about 40% on their bedaquiline purchases from J&J over the next two years.

“Assuming that we treat 16 000 people with this drug over the next two years two years, we will spend a total of R35.2m instead of R88m,” he explains.

Candice Sehoma, access campaign advocacy officer at Doctors without Borders (MSF), said that the reduction of bedaquiline prices in South Africa was a win for TB patients in the country.

“It has taken us many years to get to this point and the collective action we have seen in the past weeks have all added tremendously to this win. It is also important to note that the reduction is also happening amidst national restrictions on spending and budgets. This cost saving will come in handy in addressing inequalities in our healthcare system,” says Sehoma.


GroundUp article – Life-saving TB drug is now cheaper in South Africa, but not as cheap as it can be (Open access)


See more from MedicalBrief archives:


J&J probed for high TB drug prices and patent law ‘abuse’


J&J patent deal allows for cheaper generic TB drugs, but SA may lose out


Bedaquiline-delamanid combo for resistant TB — SA and Peru trial

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