Tuberculosis drug maker Sanofi drops price, easing access to shortened TB infection treatment

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TAG photo

The existing standard of care for TB treatment is burdensome stands as a barrier to completion for many patients. Photo credit: Treatment Action Group

It was Christmas come early for publicly funded TB programs and for advocates of improved tuberculosis regimens when the maker of a rifapentine, a drug that can shorten treatment for tuberculosis infection from as much as nine months to three months announced Thursday it will drop its price for the medicine to a dollar a pill.

The pharmaceutical company Sanofi, which developed the drug, marketed as Priftin®, with support from the U.S. Centers For Disease Control and Prevention’s Tuberculosis Trials Consortium had been charging $51 a box for the medicine, a price that TB treatment access advocates called prohibitively expensive for the U.S. TB programs that  need to dispense the drug. The Treatment Action Group with the Community Research Advisors Group, as well as physicians, researchers and tuberculosis program managers from around the country had urged the company to drop the price to $35 a box and to support continued development of the drug.

The announcement yesterday, exceeding the groups’ request, was welcome — and rare, Mike Frick of TAG told Science Speaks. In its announcement Sanofi said the “near philanthropic price” should become effective in the next two weeks. The company cites its collaborations with the federally funded TB research agencies the National Tuberculosis Controllers Association, and with TB community groups as “critical going forward.”

The outcome of months of correspondence and research on the part of TB treatment advocates as well as the company, is essentially a happy beginning, rather than a happy ending, with Frick of TAG saying the company has set a great example for other pharmaceutical companies, and Laia Ruiz Mingote of CRAG saying advocates look forward to rifapentine becoming more widely available outside of the U.S. Research has shown that rifapentine could replace an existing drug treatment of sick patients, with a weekly rather than daily pill, greatly increasing patients’ chances of completing treatment for TB disease particularly in settings where patients and health care facilities are challenged by lack of resources. Countries that have hosted trials for rifapentine include South Africa, Uganda, Kenya, Peru, Spain, Viet Nam, and Hong Kong.

“The unfortunate fact is that rifapentine is not widely registered outside the U.S. This achievement doesn’t answer the question of international access. That’s really the next chapter,” Frick said. “We would really like to see Sanofi take concrete steps rifapentine in other countries, particularly those that have hosted clinical trials.”

As clinical trials continue to confirm rifapentine’s potential to shorten treatment for TB disease as well as infection, Frick added, community members will be hoping that a strategy to ensure access to the drug for that use in host countries will be included in planning.

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