Johnson & Johnson (J&J) slashed pricing for its tuberculosis drug bedaquiline to $340 from $400 for a six month treatment in low-and middle-income countries to scale up the drug’s use during the COVID-19 pandemic. Sold under the brand name Sirturo, the drug will be available at this reduced price to over 135 eligible countries via the Stop TB Partnership’s Global Drug Facility, hosted by the United Nations and launched back in 2001 for drug price negotiations. This action occurs during an unparalleled public health crisis that risks curtailing the spread of the bacterial infection primarily targeting a patient’s lungs.
COVID-19 Forecasted to Cause 1.4m TB Deaths
The World Health Organization forecasts that between 2020 and 2025 an additional 1.4 million TB deaths will occur as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lack of Competition & Innovation
A fundamental challenge in the tuberculosis drug market is that lack of competition and innovation. Without government and non-profit intervention, drug companies must seek out more lucrative areas to invest because of the high risks (and costs) involved in drug development. Hence, it’s a rare occurrence when a new tuberculosis drug is introduced. Over the past 40 years, the only treatments approved by regulatory authorities and thus available include the not-for-profit TB Alliance’s pretomanid, J&J’s bedaquiline and Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co Ltd.’s delamanid.
J&J Position on Price Cut
J&J was reported by Reuters sought to support greater scale up for all-oral treatment combinations which has been recommended by WHO based on the consequences and ripple effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The drug maker and the Stop TB Partnership positioned in the news release that up to $16 million could be saved by national TB program.
Criticism by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)
MSF, an international aid organization also known as “Doctors without Borders” quickly responded declaring that bedaquiline should be cut to no greater than $1 per day, reported Reuters. Hence the J&J price cut equating to $150 per day was not sufficient and will therefore contribute to more deaths, suggests the international aid group’s critique.
Call to Action: COVID-19 causes untold health, economic and social damages. For those that are more fortunate than others, consider identifying cause(s) that are personal and important to you and try to better understand what the implications of COVID-19 are for that important initiative. For those interested in the work of MSF (Doctors Without Borders), see the link.