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Medical Advocacy Groups Applaud Johnson & Johnson’s Decision to Waive TB Drug Paten
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Medical advocacy groups have welcomed Johnson & Johnson’s (J&J) decision to refrain from enforcing its patent on a crucial tuberculosis medication, allowing for its production at significantly lower prices. This decision follows an investigation by South African authorities into the conglomerate’s practices.

On July 5, the South African Competition Commission announced it would not prosecute a complaint against J&J concerning “allegations of abuse of dominance.” The complaint arose after J&J and its subsidiary filed a secondary patent for bedaquiline, a drug used to treat drug-resistant tuberculosis, last year.

Experts argued that the patent prevented generic manufacturers from producing cheaper versions of the medication, endangering the treatment of tens of thousands of people in South Africa. In 2021, TB killed more than 50,000 people in the country, making it the leading cause of death.

Authorities revealed that J&J has now agreed not to enforce its patent and will reduce the price charged to South Africa by about 40%.

“This sends a strong message to pharma that they cannot continue their anti-competitive monopolies and prioritize profits over people’s lives,” said Candice Sehoma, an advocacy adviser at Doctors Without Borders in South Africa. Sehoma expressed hope that generic manufacturers in South Africa would soon begin producing bedaquiline, noting that Indian factories are already doing so.

Last year, activists in countries such as India, Belarus, and Ukraine protested against J&J’s efforts to protect its bedaquiline patent but received little response. J&J’s attempt to extend its South African patent until 2027 outraged activists who accused the company of profiteering.

In an unprecedented move, the South African government began investigating J&J’s pricing policies. The country had been paying about 5,400 rand ($282) per treatment course, significantly more than poorer nations that accessed the drug through the global Stop TB Partnership.

Fatima Hassan, founder of the Health Justice Initiative in South Africa, highlighted that patenting strategies for other key medications for diseases such as HIV, cancer, and cystic fibrosis might also come under scrutiny by regulatory agencies for their pricing practices.

“Pharmaceutical corporations need to be held in check and accountable,” Hassan said in a statement.

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Piers Potter

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