MSF calls on J&J to allow wider access to tuberculosis med Sirturo

Johnson & Johnson is the latest drugmaker to land in Doctors Without Borders' hot seat.

The organization, also known as Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), is calling on Johnson & Johnson to publicly commit to not enforcing secondary patents on tuberculosis med Sirturo in countries with a high tuberculosis burden.

J&J's base Sirturo patent expires in 2023 in most countries, but its additional patents protect the drug until 2027 in many high burden countries, according to the group.

“We are deeply concerned that the persistent high price of bedaquiline will continue to block countries from rolling out the newer, shorter, game-changing, all-oral regimens for treating deadly, drug-resistant forms of TB,” Christophe Perrin, a tuberculosis pharmacist with MSF’s Access Campaign, said in a statement.

The drug is the main cost driver in the World Health Organization-recommended six-month TB treatment regimen, MSF says. Allowing generics could slash treatment costs for this medicine by two-thirds, according to the group.

Sirturo’s patents are “typical and normal” when developing new medicines, a J&J spokesperson told Fierce Pharma in an emailed statement.

“Patents may cover follow-on innovation including the discovery of new forms and new uses, which have potential to improve patient outcomes.  When our active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) patent expires locally in a market, a formulation patent for instance, would not prevent generic manufacturers from developing the their own different formulations,” the spokesperson added.

Some action has already been taken against the company’s add-on patents. Last month, the Indian Patent Office rejected J&J’s bid to extend its Sirturo monopoly beyond its primary patent’s expiration in July, according to MSF.

This isn’t the first time the company’s patent tactics have drawn criticism from patient advocates. Back in December, the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) asked J&J, among other companies, to consider patient access when developing patent strategies. Specifically, ICCR called J&J out for owning more than 100 patents on immunology drug Remicade.

At the same time, J&J in the past has worked to enable wide access to its meds.

In 2012, J&J agreed to not enforce patents on HIV drug Prezista after already licensing it to a South African drugmaker. That year, the company made it to No. 2 position in the Access to Medicine Index’s rankings of pharmas that prioritize drug access. In the 2022 edition of the report, J&J kept its No. 2 spot, only falling behind GSK.