J&J opens HIV fighter Prezista to copycats in poor countries

Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) is throwing out the welcome mat to copycat drugmakers in Africa and developing countries. The U.S.-based company says it won't enforce its patents on the HIV drug Prezista, provided generics companies sell high-quality versions.

Though the drugmaker already has licensed Prezista to South Africa's Aspen Pharmacare for low-cost sales--at a price of $2.22 per day--this new move will allow prices to drop even further. As Reuters notes, Prezista is used when patients stop responding to other therapies, and demand is expected to grow as African patients grow treatment-resistant.

By opening up Prezista for imitation on its own, J&J bypasses the Medicines Patent Pool, an effort to improve access to drugs in poor countries. It also allows the company some measure of control over which generics makers copy the drug.

"We have chosen to go direct ... we think that is the best way," J&J Pharma Chief Paul Stoffels told Reuters. "We want to reserve the right to reinforce patents if people are not providing the right quality of product, for example by bringing products to market that under-dose."

Debates over pharma's intellectual property have intensified of late, as public health advocates champion access to medicines and patent protections are eroding in some markets, namely India. Some have even called for a wholesale overhaul of the patent system. Drugmakers maintain that they can't recoup their huge development costs without IP protections.

Meanwhile, some drugmakers are stepping up efforts to improve access to drugs; the latest Access to Medicine Index put J&J in second place for its moves in that direction. But that same report also endorsed the Medicines Patent Pool as a mechanism for getting HIV drugs to patients. Gilead Sciences ($GILD) has licensed key patents to the pool, and the group says it's in negotiations with Boehringer Ingelheim, Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY), Roche ($RHHBY) and ViiV Healthcare, the GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK)/Pfizer ($PFE) joint venture.

- read the Reuters news