PIH Applauds Breakthrough in Access to Key MDR-TB Drug

Johnson & Johnson pledges not to enforce bedaquiline patents, opening pathway for generic drug manufacturing

Posted on Oct 1, 2023

Clinician reviews chest x-ray of tuberculosis patient in Lesotho
Clinicians conduct rounds and review patient records at PIH-supported Botšabelo Hospital, the only facility that cares for patients with multidrug-resistant tuberculosis in Lesotho. Photo by Zack DeClerck / PIH

Following Friday’s precedent-setting announcement that in low- and middle-income countries Johnson & Johnson will not enforce patents on bedaquiline, a key drug in the fight against multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB), Partners In Health CEO Dr. Sheila Davis shares this statement. 

For decades, progress in the fight against MDR-TB has been too slow. Too many people have become sick. Too many people have not had access to modern medicine. And too many people have died. 

Only weeks ago, countless people of conscience escalated decade-long pressure on Johnson & Johnson to increase access to bedaquiline. These activists built upon a movement of TB survivors, governments, health care providers, and others. 

On Friday, their appeals were answered. Johnson & Johnson’s announcement is a heartening example of solidarity, and one that will make a real difference in the lives of the half-million people who newly fall sick with MDR-TB each year. 

PIH has been researching MDR-TB, advocating on behalf of those suffering from MDR-TB, and providing MDR-TB care for people in low- and middle-income countries since 1996. Two of our co-founders, Dr. Paul Farmer and Dr. Jim Kim, were at the vanguard of fighting for and introducing care for people with MDR-TB in low-income countries. Subsequently, through direct collaborations between PIH and ministries of health, hundreds of thousands with MDR-TB have been treated in the places we work. But it has never been enough. Friday’s news means that we, like so many around the world, will be able to widen and strengthen our efforts, getting ever closer to bringing people affected by TB the care they deserve and ending this terrible disease. 

We have a lot of work ahead of us in the fight for global health equity, and specifically in addressing the cruel inequities of TB. Hundreds of thousands of people with MDR-TB are left undiagnosed and untreated each year. Recent progress has also been made on the cost of one diagnostic tool, Cepheid’s Xpert MTB/RIF cartridge. But enormous gaps will remain as long as commercial producers of health tools are permitted to unilaterally set prices and conditions for how those tools are obtained. As PIH Trustee John Green recently said at the United Nations High-Level Meeting on TB, “The patients are where the tools are not, and the tools are where the patients are not.” 

Let’s keep pushing to bring high-quality care to all who need it. 

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