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J&J faces price and patent probe over TB drug in South Africa

Aerial view of Capetown, SOuth Africa
Cape Town

The drugmaker is reportedly accused of excessive pricing for anti-TB drug bedaquiline and patent evergreening

South Africa’s Competition Commission will investigate Johnson & Johnson over excessive pricing for a tuberculosis drug and patent evergreening, local media reported yesterday, September 14.

The US drugmaker has faced heavy criticism this year over its pricing and patent strategies for bedaquiline, which is used to treat drug-resistant TB.

South African officials are said to be concerned that South Africa is paying twice as much for the drug as other low- and middle-income countries.

The Health Justice Initiative (HJI), a non-profit organisation, announced the probe after a briefing from government officials.

A spokesperson for the Competition Commission confirmed the news to local media and said it would issue a full statement soon.

Bedaquiline prices fell this summer after J&J agreed to license patents to the Stop TB Partnership’s Global Drug Facility.

The Stop TB Partnership is a UN-backed organisation aimed at improving access to TB treatment.

That deal came after access to medicine campaigners targeted J&J over its efforts to extend patent protection on bedaquiline, which is set to expire in most countries this year.

Last month, the Stop TB Partnership revealed that prices for the drug fell by up to 55% as a result of the J&J licence.

J&J now charges most lower-income countries a headline price of $130 for a six-month course of the drug compared to the old figure of $289.

But South Africa doesn’t appear to be benefiting from the slide in prices.

Under the Ministry of Health’s latest deal with J&J, concluded last month, South Africa will pay R5,500 ($288.62) for a six-month course.

Fatima Hassan, a prominent health lawyer and founder of the HJI, called the news “unprecedented and welcome”.

“It is time our country stands up to the bullying of multinational pharmaceutical corporations, in all its forms,” she said.

A spokesperson for J&J said: the company had a "longstanding commitment" to South Africa’s fight against multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB).

"Today, all patients in South Africa who require bedaquiline, our medicine for MDR-TB, have access to it thanks to our collaboration with the government of South Africa and other stakeholders, which has contributed to a steady decline in TB incidence.

"The company will cooperate fully with the Competition Commission in its inquiry, and cannot comment further while this is ongoing," the spokesperson said.

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