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MSF warns high prices of tuberculosis drug

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Calls on US pharma corporation Johnson & Johnson to cut key TB drug price in half

People with drug-resistant tuberculosis (DR-TB) continue to be deprived of today’s best-possible treatment in part because of high drug prices, according to a new report DR-TB Drugs Under the Microscope released by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) at the Union World Conference on Lung Health in The Hague.

MSF called, in particular, on US pharmaceutical corporation Johnson & Johnson (J&J) to cut the price of the newer TB drug bedaquiline in half, so more lives can be saved.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommended expanding use of bedaquiline by making it a core drug for treatment of DR-TB, while at the same time relegating drugs that need to be injected daily and can cause deafness, renal failures and other severe side effects to last-resort options only.

MSF’s research shows that DR-TB treatment regimens containing the two newer drugs bedaquiline and delamanid represent a significant price increase over older, no-longer-recommended treatment regimens. People with DR-TB must receive individually tailored treatment consisting of at least five drugs for different durations, according to the type of drug-resistant TB that affects them. The estimated price of longer individualized treatment regimens could now reach more than US$2,000 for people who need at least 18 months of bedaquiline, which would represent a 50 per cent price increase over previous standard treatment. People who might need both bedaquiline and delamanid for as long as 20 months, the price increase could reach 500 per cent, with a treatment regimen priced at around $9,000.

Sharonann Lynch, HIV & TB advisor for MSF’s Access Campaign said,“Our analysis clearly shows that the high price of the two newer TB drugs makes today’s best-possible treatment much more expensive than previous treatment regimens”.
“These new TB drugs will save more lives, benefit programmes and make this arduous treatment more tolerable for people, but if they remain priced out of reach, they will not serve their purpose and the expected gains will not be achieved. Unless pharmaceutical corporations lower their prices substantially, people will continue to suffer without access to safer and more effective treatment.”

J&J recently announced a price reduction for bedaquiline for some countries, but this falls short of making the drug affordable in countries hardest hit by the DR-TB epidemic.

J&J received substantial taxpayer money from the US and other governments for the development of bedaquiline, and therefore has a clear responsibility to make sure the public gets a return on this investment by making the drug affordable for everyone who needs it. To ensure the drug is accessible to all, MSF called on J&J to issue a non-exclusive license to the Medicines Patent Pool to allow for price-lowering competition among generic producers.

Dr. Naira Khachatryan, Medical Coordinator of MSF’s project in Armenia said,“The new treatment recommendations from WHO represent the best chance for a cure with fewer debilitating side effects for people with drug-resistant TB”.
“If bedaquiline continues to be too expensive, countries will have limited opportunity to scale up treatment, and we’ll be stuck with the deadly status quo where the majority of affected people will not have a chance to benefit from more effective treatment.”

MSF has been involved in TB care for 30 years, often working alongside national health authorities to treat people in a wide variety of settings, including chronic conflict zones, urban slums, prisons, refugee camps and rural areas. In 2017, MSF supported more than 22,000 people with TB on treatment, including 3,600 people with drug-resistant forms of TB. Across MSF projects in 14 countries, more than 2,000 people have been treated with the newer drugs  633 with delamanid, 1,530 with bedaquiline, and 227 with a combination of both medicines.

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