Pharmaceutical juggernaut Johnson & Johnson is accused of blocking access to life-saving medications for AIDS victims in developing countries (Re: no money) around the world. J&J holds patents to three medications that it refuses to grant to the Medicines Patent Pool, which is credited with treating 6 millions AIDS patients around the globe.
J&J’s motivation to block access to its patents is entirely financial. Pharmaceutical companies don’t spend millions of dollars researching and developing medications that don’t turn a profit, after all. However, most would argue that the company has a moral obligation to man the F up and help save the lives of those that are dying without access to the J&J medications in question.
For what it’s worth, Johnson & Johnson is a multi-BILLION dollar company, with Warren Buffet alone said to own more than a billion dollars in stock. The water and electric men aren’t exactly going to shut off the company’s utilities if they offer the poor and suffering international victims of AIDS these medications for free or reduced prices.
Johnson & Johnson, which holds patents on three key new HIV drugs desperately needed throughout the developing world, has so far refused to license these patents to the Medicines Patent Pool. The Pool has been set up to increase access to more affordable versions of HIV drugs, including fixed-dose combinations that include multiple medicines in one pill, and to develop much-needed pediatric HIV drugs.The Pool would license patents on HIV drugs to other manufacturers and the resulting competition would dramatically reduce prices, making them much more affordable in the developing world. However, since the Pool is voluntary it will only work if patent holders like Johnson & Johnson choose to participate.
Even at Johnson & Johnson’s so-called reduced “access” pricing, the cost of these drugs is prohibitive; darunavir is priced at $1,095 per patient per year, and etravirine at $913 per patient per year in the world’s least-developed countries, most of which are in sub-Saharan Africa. Many developing countries have to pay even higher prices.
In December 2010, the National Institutes of Health, which holds the intellectual property rights for a manufacturing process for darunavir, put its patent for the AIDS drug in the patent pool. Johnson & Johnson holds the drug’s remaining patents, and is effectively blocking other companies from manufacturing and making darunavir available at prices affordable for patients in the developing world.
Johnson & Johnson is literally the only company holding out on these patents and preventing the Medicines Patent Pool from ensuring the production and distribution of these drugs.
“We have patients who have no other treatment options other than Johnson & Johnson’s darunavir, which is so expensive that the South African government cannot afford it,” said Dr. Gilles van Cutsem, medical coordinator for MSF programs in South Africa and Lesotho. “MSF is now paying for these drugs, but this is just the beginning of the problem. Ten years after we put the first patients on antiretroviral treatment, we now have patients in our clinics who have become resistant to drugs available at affordable prices. We’ll soon be back in a situation where we’ll have to say there are drugs in the private sector, or in rich countries, that could treat you, but we cannot afford them.”
The behavior by this company is absolutely deplorable. Even if they eventually relent, it is unconscionable that the world has to shame Johnson & Johnson into doing the right thing here. Lives are at stake!