How Advocates Pushed Big Pharma to Cut Tuberculosis Drug Prices


… The two issues of underdiagnosis and restricted access to low-cost TB drugs are inseparable, says Helen Cox, an epidemiologist at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, who specializes in TB. “Patents on drugs like bedaquiline make TB so expensive to treat,” she says, adding that many high-burden TB countries are reluctant to fund diagnostic services. “If you don’t diagnose the problem, you don’t have to pay for the treatment.” She’s hopeful that the recent J&J-GDF agreement will encourage these countries to invest into diagnosing TB. … Currently, U.S.-based corporations such as Cepheid hold a monopoly over TB DNA diagnostic tests such as GeneXpert MTB/RIF and MTB/RIF Ultra, which are priced at $9.98 per test cartridge. The Doctors without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières Access Campaign, which advocates for affordable medical treatments, has argued that public funds largely underwrote the development of these tests. Organizers have also claimed that Cepheid’s manufacturing costs are estimated to be as low as $3 per cartridge, meaning the company could still make a substantial profit if it lowered the costs of cartridges to $5. “Lowering the price of diagnostic tests is the next fight, and I’m confident that Johnson & Johnson will join us in that battle based on their statement,” Green says. “And if Cepheid pushes back, well, it’s sunny in California,” which is where Cepheid’s headquarters are located. “Maybe we’ll take a trip there.”