Johnson & Johnson deal falls short for people with TB

Johnson & Johnson must end its patent monopoly on bedaquiline so generic versions of this lifesaving drug can be widely produced.

A woman in a green headscarf and her young daughter are treated for drug resistant tuberculosis at MSF’s treatment center in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

Afghanistan 2020 © MSF/Laura Mc Andrew

NEW YORK, JULY 13, 2023—Stop TB Partnership’s Global Drug Facility announced a deal today with US pharmaceutical corporation Johnson & Johnson (J&J) to provide access to affordable generic versions of the lifesaving tuberculosis (TB) drug bedaquiline. However, this will only offer a short-term solution for low- and middle-income countries, said the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).

New TB medicine deal excludes some of the most affected people

The deal only covers a limited number of countries, which means only people in select countries will be able to procure generic versions of this drug through the Global Drug Facility. While the full terms of the agreement are yet to be made public, MSF has learned that nine countries in the Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA) region—which have some of the world’s highest burdens of drug-resistant TB (DR-TB)—are excluded from this agreement.

Johnson & Johnson must do more to ensure access to TB drug

Instead of a stopgap deal like this, J&J must stop using unnecessary patents to prevent other manufacturers from supplying more affordable, quality-assured generic versions of this lifesaving drug to everyone who needs it, everywhere, said MSF. Bedaquiline is the backbone of the highly effective and patient-friendly treatment regimens for DR-TB that are now recommended by the World Health Organization.

Christophe Perrin, TB advocacy pharmacist with MSF’s Access Campaign, said of today’s announcement: 

“We remain concerned that J&J retains the global authority to determine access to lifesaving generic versions of bedaquiline in countries with a high burden of TB, even after the expiration of the main patent next week.

“By continuing to pursue an extension of their monopoly on the drug in many countries—including 34 high-TB-burden countries where J&J still has a secondary patent on bedaquiline—J&J is maintaining control over countries’ ability to offer more people the treatments they need to stay alive and healthy.

“We reiterate our call on J&J to publicly announce it will not enforce any secondary patents on bedaquiline in any country with a high burden of TB and withdraw and abandon all pending secondary patent applications for this lifesaving drug.

“Only by taking these actions will J&J truly demonstrate a commitment to improving global access to bedaquiline and prioritizing the health needs of people most affected by this deadly disease over its profits.”