Johnson & Johnson has been slammed by the international medical humanitarian organisation Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) for refusing to make urgently needed AIDS drugs more accessible in developing countries.

The pharmaceutical giant has thus far been unwilling to add three key new HIV drugs to the Medicines Patent Pool or to engage in formal negotiations on the matter.

The pool was set up to increase access to HIV drugs by licensing patents to other manufacturers, thereby making them much more affordable in the developing world.

“High prices mean patients in poor countries continue to be relegated to second-class care, with no choice but to take older, more toxic drugs we would no longer use in the US, and with almost no treatment options when the virus becomes resistant to the limited number of drugs available,” said Sophie Delaunay, executive director of MSF-USA.

“By putting its HIV drug patents in the pool, Johnson & Johnson has a unique opportunity to transform this situation and save lives worldwide. Instead, it has chosen to turn its back on these patients.”

In December last year, the National Institutes of Health, which holds some of the intellectual property rights for a manufacturing process for darunavir, put its patent for the AIDS drug in the patent pool.

Johnson & Johnson, however, 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.

“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.

“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.”

MSF has written to Johnson & Johnson CEO’s William C. Weldon urging him reconsider his company’s position.

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