Humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders, has publicly condemned Japanese drugmaker Otsuka Pharmaceutical for the “ridiculously high” cost of their relatively-new tuberculosis (TB) drug. Last week, Otsuka announced that they would provide delamanid – a drug used to treat multi-drug resistant forms of tuberculosis – to over 100 low- to middle-income countries around the world.
The drugmaker will charge developing countries $1,700 for half a year’s worth of treatment with the drug, which will be paid for by a public-private partnership organization, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. The STOP TB Partnership – an organization that works under United Nations guidance – will be responsible for administration of the program.
According to Doctors Without Borders, delamanid – sold under the trade name, Deltyba – is required to be administered with other medications which can cost poorer countries $1,000 to $4,500 extra. This added cost may mean that current price of delamanid is prohibitively expensive for some governments.
“It’s an awful precedent for one of the first new TB drugs in decades to be priced ridiculously high,” said Sharonann Lynch, the HIV and TB policy advisor at Doctors Without Borders. “It’s unnecessary.”
This latest scandal follows widely-publicized pharmaceutical pricing decisions made by Valeant and Turing in the past few months. Doctors Without Borders has been outspoken about pricing issues as they relate to developing countries; the organization most recently launched a campaign against GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer over the cost of the companys’ pneumonia vaccines.
Tuberculosis is an ongoing issue – especially in developing countries – with 9.6 million cases reported around the world in 2014, according to the World Health Organization. These cases of the disease led to 1.5 million deaths in the same year, with 140,000 of those occurring in children.
Over 95 percent of tuberculosis-related deaths occurred in low- to middle-income countries. In 2015, tuberculosis was the leading killer of patients with HIV, with one third of all deaths being attributed to tuberculosis infection.
“The problem is that most of the burden for TB falls in middle-income countries,” said Erica Lessem, the TB and HIV project director at the advocacy group, the Treatment Action Group. “At face value, they have larger economics, but their health budgets are not always sufficiently funded or supported. So patients can fall through the cracks.” The same problems are faced by people in low-income countries as well.
While Lessem was glad Otsuka is offering the delamanid deal to select countries, she did agree that “the price is high and we hope it will come down.” She also expressed her disappointment that delamanid is not more widely available despite its launch two years ago; the drug is only registered in the European Union, South Korea and Japan, though most people with multidrug-resistant tuberculosis live outside these regions.
“The ideal would be universal access for all countries all at once for free, but that’s not the way drug development works, unfortunately,” said an Otsuka spokesperson. “We’re trying to do something no other pharmaceutical company has done, which is to show we can make a sustainable business model in a neglected disease area … This approach allows us to reinvest in new products in the future.”