US pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson is under investigation in South Africa for allegedly charging "excessive" prices for a key tuberculosis drug, the country's antitrust regulator said on Friday.
The South African Competition Commission said J&J's Belgian subsidiary, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, was also under investigation.
The Commission, which regulates marketing practices, said it opened an investigation this week based on reports that the companies " may have engaged in exclusionary practices and excessive pricing" of bedaquiline , a tuberculosis drug sold under the brand name Sirturo.
The Competition Commission declined to give further details of its investigation, but health groups in South Africa say bedaquiline is priced more than twice as much as in other middle- or middle-income countries. weak.
Bedaquiline was approved in 2012 and is used to treat drug-resistant tuberculosis.
South Africa desperately needs it, as this infectious disease is the leading cause of death, with more than 50,000 deaths in 2021. South Africa has more than 7 million people living with HIV, more than any other country in the world.
According to the World Health Organization, almost a third of deaths among people with HIV/AIDS are due to tuberculosis.
According to the WHO, tuberculosis cases increased globally in 2021 for the first time in years.
J&J has previously faced calls to cut prices for bedaquiline and said last month it would provide a six-month course of treatment for one patient through the Stop TB Partnership's Global Medicines Facility, for a cost of 130 dollars.
The South African government buys bedaquiline directly from J&J and Janssen, not through the TB scheme, and pays about $280 for a six-month course of treatment for one patient, according to Professor Norbert Ndjeka , who leads the management and control of tuberculosis within the national ministry of health.
Mr Ndjeka said South Africa had recently reached a new two-year deal with J&J for bedaquiline at a price of just over $280 per treatment, according to a report on the News24 website.
The Competition Commission said it was confirming the investigation due to increased media interest, but it did not respond to requests for comment or further information about the investigation.
The investigation comes a week after a health advocacy group released details of South Africa's COVID-19 vaccine procurement contracts with numerous pharmaceutical companies, including J&J and US company Pfizer. This information was obtained after the group, Health Justice Initiative, won a freedom of information case in court.
The group says contracts show J&J billed South Africa for a vaccine dose 15% higher than that charged to the much wealthier European Union.
Pfizer charged South Africa more than 30% more per vaccine than the African Union, even as South Africa scrambled to acquire doses and the number of COVID-19 infections was higher there than anywhere else on the continent.
In the contract, South Africa was to pay Pfizer $40 million up front for the doses, with only $20 million refundable if the vaccines were not delivered, the Health Justice Initiative said .
J&J also required a non-refundable deposit of $27.5 million.
Pfizer reported record revenue of $100.3 billion in 2022. J&J had revenue of $94.9 billion last year.