April 26, 2011
Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) recently sent a letter to Johnson & Johnson criticizing the pharmaceutical company for "refusing to make patents on three HIV drugs available to a program that would reduce the cost of the medicines in developing countries," the Star-Ledger reports.
Johnson & Johnson holds the patents on the experimental, potential first-line antiretroviral rilpirivine and the already-approved second-line drugs darunavir and etravirine, which are used when patients develop resistance to primary medications, according to the newspaper (Todd, 4/25). MSF said that because the company "has so far refused to license these patents" to the voluntary Medicines Patent Pool, a mechanism designed to help lower the cost of HIV medicines in developing countries, it is "putting the lives of people living with HIV at stake," according to an MSF press release (4/25).
In an e-mail on Monday, Johnson & Johnson "said it preferred to provide access to its compounds through agreements with generic manufacturers," according to the Star-Ledger. In February, the company's subsidiary Tibotec, which holds the patents, announced it would provide "three generic drug makers with rights to manufacture and distribute lower-priced versions of rilpivirine" so the drug would be available to parts of sub-Saharan Africa, the newspaper writes.
Judit Rius, the U.S. manager of the MSF Access to Essential Medicines Campaign, said the agreement is too restrictive and does not provide enough of a cost reduction, according to the Star-Ledger. "We think there is a better way to do it," she said. Rius added that drug manufacturers Roche and Gilead have agreed to participate in the Medicines Patent Pool, also known as UNITAID, but Merck, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Johnson & Johnson had not yet joined, the newspaper writes (4/25).