Millions of People Could Live Thanks to New Access to Tuberculosis Medication

Patrick Pleul/AP

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.Johnson & Johnson announced on Friday that the company will not enforce patents for the lifesaving tuberculosis treatment bedaquiline in 134 low- and middle-income countries globally. Bedaquiline, which was approved in 2012, is an essential part of treatment for multidrug-resistant tuberculosis, also known as MDR-TB. MDR-TB impacts half a million people annually, and 200,000 of those infected will die.
Bedaquiline was the first new tuberculosis drug to become available in around forty years, and its development was a major step forward in treating the deadly illness. But for millions of patients globally, the drug has been out of reach. Johnson & Johnson’s patent prevented cost-effective generic versions of the drug from being available to many in lower-income countries where tuberculosis is most prevalent and most deadly. 
The announcement from Johnson & Johnson has the potential to reduce the price of bedaquiline by at least 50 percent, greatly increasing the availability of the drug globally. Johnson & Johnson has faced immense pressure to give up control of its patent from organizations like Doctors Without Borders and Partners in Health. Doctors Without Borders began a public campaign against the company in 2019, arguing that because taxpayers had invested five times more in the development of bedaquiline than Johnson & Johnson, it was wrong for the corporation to control the price of the drug.
Those advocates are now celebrating a major step towards treating tuberculosis globally. “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,” said Partners In Health CEO Dr. Sheila Davis in a statement. 
The hugely popular author and YouTuber John Green has also been extremely vocal about pressuring Johnson & Johnson to drop enforcement of their patent, recently penning a piece for the Washington Post about his experience visiting a tuberculosis treatment center in Sierra Leone in 2019. On Saturday, he celebrated the enormous victory on YouTube. “This is the announcement that we have been waiting for and that I have to confess, despite my ridiculous over-the-top optimism about all this stiff never thought was possible.”