The Competition Commission has launched an investigation into the conduct of US pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson.
The probe follows allegations that it is charging South Africa more than double the price for the Tuberculosis drug bedaquiline compared to the rest of the world.
This was announced by Fatima Hassan, a Human rights lawyer and founder of the Health Justice Initiative (HJI) during a media briefing on Thursday.
The briefing was hosted by Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières, MSF), Rural Health Advocacy Project (RHAP), Health Justice Initiative (HJI) and other health advocacy groups to shine the spotlight on the issues relating to the pricing of bedaquiline, a crucial medicine for treating drug-resistant TB.
Hassan told the media that part of the investigation includes whether the country's competition law was violated by Johnson and Johnson's exclusion of patents.
According to the founder of HJI, the J&J probe will touch on, among other things, the practice of obtaining "evergreen patents" for the TB drug bedaquiline:
“As far as we are aware, this is the first time a pharmaceutical company's ‘evergreening conduct’ will be investigated by the competition authorities in South Africa, and kudos to the Competition Commission for initiating this.”
She also added that there was reasonable suspicion that Johnson & Johnson had breached Section 8 of the Competition Act relating to excessive pricing.
A spokesman for the South African Health Department said his agency had also approached the Competition Commission about the pricing of bedaquiline.
“My request to Johnson and Johnson has been that we need to continue to enjoy a reasonable price than the rest of the world because we are the ones who put this drug on the map,"
In 2018, South Africa became the first country in the world to make the oral drug bedaquiline part of its standard recommended treatment for drug-resistant TB (DR-TB), helping to phase out painful, toxic injections and scale up access to more effective, more tolerable treatments.