Johnson & Johnson’s TB drug, bedaquiline (BDQ) can improve lives.
The pediatric version is not substantially different to the adult version – it’s simply a soluble version. Yet, J&J would prefer to patent and overprice the drug instead of conceding that generic competition should be permitted, and which would result in children recovering from this debilitating illness much faster.
To make medicine easier to take for children, parents have been mashing pills in bananas, mixing into yoghurt, or dissolving into drinks since pills existed.
Johnson and Johnson’s pediatric version of bedaquiline (BDQ) is essentially a soluble version. It lacks “inventive step” and is “obvious to any average expert in that sphere”, which means there are no grounds for patenting. In this case it is not just obvious to experts, but to mums and dads worldwide.
Our campaign partner in Ukraine, 100% LIFE, was the first to oppose a patent on the pediatric version of the drug and our partner in Thailand, AIDS Access Foundation has now followed in their footsteps, through a third-party observation.
“I hope many more countries follow this action,” says Chalermsak Kittitrakul, Project Manager of AIDS Access Foundation. “The patent is not justified, but if J&J succeed in obtaining a monopoly on this drug, they will inevitably overprice it due to lack of competition. Bedaquiline has the ability to make TB treatment less lengthy and traumatic.”
“By attempting to block generic competition, this signifies that the company, which has spent years trying to a build a ‘family friendly’ reputation, would in fact prefer to deprive children of less toxic treatment than deprive the company of excess and unwarranted profits.”
J&J would rather deprive children of less toxic treatment than deprive the company of excess profits – Kittitrakul
Pharmaceutical companies have a track record of exploiting the patent system in Thailand to an incredulous level. Civil society plays a key role in trying to counter this and working to change the system, to prevent patent abuse. This is the fourth third-party observation that AIDS Access has submitted this year on BDQ patents alone.
Patent abuse in Thailand typically takes the form of evergreening. This is the practice of applying for multiple, unmerited patents on the same drug, layering intellectual property (IP) protection around a drug, keeping patents ‘fresh’, so monopolies extend way beyond the original 20 years. In an 11 year period, 82% of patent applications in Thailand were examples of evergreening, and unfortunately 72% of granted patents also fell into that category. One drug had six patents and a total monopoly period of 31 years.
“During 2020, the rate of patent applications has not slowed, so neither can we,” says Kittitrakul. “Even during the pandemic we have observed that pharmaceutical industry has shown no genuine signs of changing its profiteering behaviour. So, in 2021, civil society will continue to highlight and prevent unjustifiable patents. We cannot afford take our foot off the pedal – and especially not for children with TB who deserve to recover in the best way possible.”