A little more than four months ago, a collection of organizations and individuals concerned with the high price of rifapentine, a drug that could treat tuberculosis more quickly than other drugs, and also treat TB infection before it caused illness, wrote to Sanofi, the company that makes the medicine. Noting that government funding that had made the product possible, the letter writers urged the company to lower the drug’s price.
With signatures from the American Medical Association, the American Thoracic Society, Treatment Action Group, RESULTS, and nine other organizations and agencies involved in TB treatment and prevention, as well as 21 clinicians, researchers and TB program managers, the letter opened with warm congratulations and appreciation for the value of the drug the pharmaceutical giant had developed.
But, pointing out that the drug’s development was supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and by the National Institutes of Health, the letter also said that the price the company had put on the medicine put it out of the reach of the taxpayers whose dollars had already contributed to it. “Given the broader market for rifapentine, if its price were lowered,” the letter urged, “we expect this reduction would in fact benefit Sanofi, as well as those with TB, their loved ones, and their caregivers.” The letter also suggested the company, which is ranked among the top ten largest pharmaceutical countries in the world, pledge a donation of $2 million to the CDC’s Tuberculosis Trials Consortium for the drug’s continued development.
The letter-writers, as well as domestic TB programs still are waiting for an answer, a new letter sent to Sanofi and posted online Wednesday says. The letter was sent by the Community Research Advisors Group (CRAG), a volunteer body that provides input to the TB Trials Consortium. CRAG also was a signer to the earlier letter.
Actually, communication on the issue of the TB drug’s price, the role U.S.-funded agencies had played in its development, and the suggestion that the company, in turn, support further development efforts had begun months before the letter, more than a year ago now, the letter says.
And in the time since, nothing much has happened, the new letter says.
“Your community liaison initially indicated to TAG and NTCA that while a price decrease was forthcoming, an additional survey by Sanofi was necessary to estimate demand in order to prevent a drug shortage due to a surge in uptake of rifapentine,” the letter says. But, it adds, after research from the Treatment Action Group showed such a shortage was unlikely. the company said it needed to project demand to determine a cost-neutral price.
“Although we appreciate the concept of a Sanofi community liaison,” the letter says, “thus far we have found that interactions with this person involve stonewalling tactics that prevent progress and documentation.”
In the meantime, the letter says, the need for a drug that is both effective and affordably priced remains urgent for use by domestic TB programs, and for access in high-TB-burden countries.
“We cry enough!” the letter says.
Sanofi, which responded to Science Speaks in July with a written statement citing its Patient Assistance Connection for uninsured American patients not eligible for government-funded programs, did not say then how it would respond to the request that the price be lowered, and the company support further research. The company returned a call requesting comment today, and is working on making a response available, a Sanofi representative said. It will be added here when it becomes available.