Author John Green spent the majority of this week publicly criticizing Johnson & Johnson for its plans to extend the patent on Sirturo, a life-saving drug to treat tuberculosis.
Green, who most famously authored the young adult novel The Fault in Our Stars, has been a longtime advocate for patients living with TB, especially those living in low- and middle-income countries.
On Wednesday, Green posted a video to Instagram calling out J&J for “flagrantly violating their corporate credo” by planning to extend its secondary patent on Sirturo (bedaquiline) for another four years after the initial 20-year patent was set to expire.
Around 6 million people would be denied treatment due to the decision, Green claimed, citing conversations with TB experts.
Green is not alone in calling for J&J to not enforce its secondary patents on the drug as Doctors Without Borders issued a similar request in late April.
Green’s brother, Hank, posted a video to the pair’s YouTube channel on the same day titled “Barely Contained Rage: An Open Letter to Johnson & Johnson.”
In the video which has nearly 1 million views, Hank talked about how deadly, yet curable TB is if treated with the proper medication. The World Health Organization estimated that 1.6 million died from TB in 2021, making it the 13th-leading cause of death.
On Thursday morning, John Green continued to press J&J, tweeting at the drugmaker with an offer to help write a press release outlining its plans for expanding access to Sirturo in perpetuity.
“I’m happy to help advise on what it needs to include–a pledge that this deal will last forever, that it will not limit the quantity of bedaquiline available, and the list of countries it applies to. My services are free on this one,” he tweeted.
In a lengthy post just over an hour later, J&J shot back at the Greens over the suggestion that its patents on Sirturo were being used to limit access to the drug.
J&J tweeted that it had an established collaboration with the nonprofit Stop TB Partnership’s Global Drug Facility (GDF) to invite potential generic supplies and purchase generic versions of Sirturo.
That tweet earned the pharma giant a Community Note from Twitter, which stated: “TB kills 1.6 million people/yr. Over 20 years, J&J donated only 660k courses—during the same time, 32 million died from TB, most unable to afford treatment. Evergreening this parent prevents generic manufacturers from offering the easily-produced drug at affordable prices.”
Following the back-and-forth, the Greens ultimately got what they were looking for from J&J.
Stop TB Partnership announced Thursday evening that J&J granted GDF licenses to “tender, procure, and supply generic versions” of Sirturo for most low- and middle-income countries, including those that have patents still in effect. GDF added that it plans to launch a global, competitive tender for bedaquiline by the end of the month.
John Green celebrated the commitment from J&J but added, in capitalized letters, “We are watching, J&J. And we will keep watching.”
Interestingly, the Sirturo saga took place the same week Brand Finance issued a report that named Johnson & Johnson as the world’s most valuable and strongest pharma brand.