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July 6 (Reuters) - Johnson & Johnson said on Monday it was slashing the price of its version of tuberculosis drug bedaquiline to $340 from $400, for a six-month treatment, in low- and middle-income countries, to scale up its use during the COVID-19 pandemic.
J&J's bedaquiline, marketed under the brand name Sirturo, will be available at the reduced price to more than 135 eligible countries, through the United Nations-hosted Stop TB Partnership's Global Drug Facility, created in 2001 to negotiate lower prices for treatments.
The move comes at a time when the virus outbreak has been feared to have derailed global efforts to curtail the spread of tuberculosis, a bacterial infection that mainly affects a patient's lungs.
Between 2020 and 2025 an additional 1.4 million TB deaths could be registered as a direct consequence of the pandemic, the World Health Organization said in May. (bit.ly/2ZWjVFh)
J&J said it would offer an increasing percentage of free drugs when certain volume thresholds are reached annually, to help support the further scaling up of all-oral treatment combinations, the use of which has been recommended by the WHO in light of the pandemic.
In the first year, the initiative could lead to an estimated savings of up to $16 million for national TB programs, the drugmaker and Stop TB Partnership said. (bit.ly/2ZFSCi5)
New treatments against tuberculosis have been sparse, with not-for-profit TB Alliance's pretomanid becoming only the third new medicine for drug-resistant tuberculosis to be approved in about 40 years, after J&J's bedaquiline and Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co Ltd's delamanid.
International aid group Médecins Sans Frontières, which has been demanding that J&J lower its price tag for bedaquiline to no more than $1 per day, said the new price of about $1.50 per day should be cut further and extended to more countries. (bit.ly/2Cc7kVW) (Reporting by Manojna Maddipatla in Bengaluru; Editing by Ramakrishnan M and Shounak Dasgupta)