* Move allows multiple generic companies to make drug
* Cost of Prezista expected to fall as competition grows
* J&J still holds back from joining Medicines Patent Pool
By Ben Hirschler
LONDON, Nov 29 Generic manufacturers are to be
given a free rein to make cheap copies of Johnson & Johnson's
HIV/AIDS drug Prezista for sale in Africa and other poor
U.S. healthcare group J&J said on Thursday it would not
enforce patents, provided generic firms made high-quality
versions of the drug - known generically as darunavir - for
sub-Saharan Africa and Least Developed Countries.
Prezista is a relatively new drug used when patients develop
resistance to older antiretrovirals. The need for it was
expected to grow rapidly as more patients in Africa stop
responding to existing therapies.
Pharmaceuticals head Paul Stoffels said he expected Indian
drugmakers, in particular, to take advantage of the patent move,
adding that competition among different companies should drive
prices down further.
J&J has an existing deal with South African group Aspen
Pharmacare, which makes Prezista at a discounted price
of $2.22 per day for Africa - a fraction of the western market
Its decision to act unilaterally on Prezista patents will,
however, disappoint those calling for J&J to share intellectual
property rights in the new Medicines Patent Pool, which aims to
streamline generic production by pooling patents.
"We have chosen to go direct ... we think that is the best
way," Stoffels said in an interview.
"We want to reserve the right to reinforce patents if people
are not providing the right quality of product, for example by
bringing products to market that under-dose."
International drugmakers are under growing pressure to make
medicines more affordable in poor countries, after being
attacked for not doing enough in the past.
J&J ranked second in a new analysis of how companies are
performing in providing access to medicines - an improvement of
seven places from two years earlier, following its purchase of
Crucell, which makes vaccines for the developing world.