Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

A breakthrough tuberculosis pill is being sold at about 10 times the price it should be by patent holder Johnson & Johnson (J&J), according to public interest law centre Section27.

The new drug, bedaquiline, is an important advance in the treatment of multidrug resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB). It is a pill that replaces painful injections whose side effects included hearing loss.

J&J’s subsidiary, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, has set the price of bedaquiline in SA at $136 per month. Research conducted at the University of Liverpool found this price "excessively rewards" Janssen, which could profitably sell bedaquiline at a tenth of what it is charging.

"While we appreciate that Janssen has made certain investments in the research and development of bedaquiline, we also recognise that the development of bedaquiline has benefited greatly from public and philanthropic funding and government tax credits," Section 27 said.

"Every dollar spent on high priced treatment is a dollar taken away from strengthening the TB response, including hiring more health workers, and conducting contact-tracing to close the gap of the 4.1-million undiagnosed people with TB, including the over 78% of people with drug-resistant TB who are not identified and started on appropriate therapy."