Following recent negotiations between the Johnson & Johnson company and the Stop TB Partnership, generic bedaquiline will become available and affordable to millions of people. Bedaquiline is a crucial medication in treating multidrug-resistant tuberculosis which affects hundreds of thousands of people per year. Johnson & Johnson held a 20-year primary patent on the drug which was set to expire on July 18, 2023.
Hundreds of thousands of people globally contract multi-drug resistant tuberculosis with an estimated 450,000 in 2021 alone. While tuberculosis is relatively treatable, the vast majority of deaths from the disease occur in the global south due to unaffordable treatment pricing. As a result of the Johnson & Johnson patent on bedaquiline, tens of thousands of people were unable to afford life-saving treatment for tuberculosis.
Despite being largely treatable, thousands of people continued to die from the disease due to this lack of access and affordability. The global south, experiencing higher rates of multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis, was particularly impacted. Despite this, Johnson & Johnson continued to apply for ‘secondary’ patents in countries around the globe. As a result, numerous organizations including Doctors Without Borders (MSF) called upon Johnson & Johnson to withdraw any ‘pending secondary patents’ and not enforce any approved secondary patents ‘for the drug in any country with a high burden of TB.’ If agreed upon, this arrangement could save thousands of lives within a short period.
Following said negotiations between Johnson & Johnson and the Stop TB Partnership, the Global Drug Facility (GDF) was granted the licenses to procure and supply generic versions of bedaquiline to a majority of low or middle-income countries that are most impacted by the disease, including some countries where Johnson & Johnson’s patents remain in effect. However, this agreement is only a ‘partial solution.’ It doesn’t apply across the board and Johnson & Johnson still holds secondary patents in 34 of 49 countries most impacted by tuberculosis. Nevertheless, it could still have a massive impact globally on thousands of people who can afford treatment.
A Collective Effort
The availability of generic bedaquiline can potentially save thousands of lives. This also highlights the importance of putting pressure on companies and governments to ‘do the right thing.’ Organizations like Doctors Without Borders have been instrumental in persuading Johnson & Johnson to allow cheaper and more accessible tuberculosis treatment to be produced and circulated. It also shows the impact of individuals like popular YouTuber and author John Green who used his influence to spread information about the situation and negotiations, encouraging his followers to contact Johnson & Johnson about their views on a recent YouTube video that was viewed more than 1.3 million times.
The agreement between Johnson & Johnson and the Stop TB Partnership likely benefited from the involvement of various organizations and individuals who shared their perspectives and advocated for this collaboration. This cooperative effort demonstrates the influence of collective voices in advocating for the interests of many. Consequently, the Johnson & Johnson bedaquiline agreement represents a significant advancement in ensuring accessible and effective care for numerous individuals, showcasing the impact of advocating for the needs of the broader community.
– Jaydin Ruch