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How an internet pressure campaign helped force pharma giant Danaher to slash the price of TB tests

A pioneering tuberculosis test will be provided “at cost” in low-income countries after an internet campaign led in part by a novelist.

Life sciences firm Danaher Corporation agreed to cut the cost of its tuberculosis test cartridge, the Xpert MTB/RIF Ultra, by 20 per cent after pressure from campaigners who said its price rendered it unaffordable and inaccessible to most patients in developing countries.

The firm and subsidiary Cepheid had faced months of pressure from the Stop TB Partnership and Médecins Sans Frontières Access – but announced the change a week after facing a high-profile internet campaign led by Fault in Our Stars author John Green.

It is the second major win in months on the issue for the novelist and YouTuber, who waged a previous pressure campaign against Johnson and Johnson in July, which eventually said it would allow a low-cost generic version of a popular tuberculosis drug.

Danaher said on Tuesday that its announcement would “expand access to millions more high-quality tuberculosis tests for people living in the least developed countries where the need is most urgent”.

As part of a partnership with the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, the critical diagnostic tests will have their price tag slashed from $9.98 to $7.97 – which the firm says will see them provided “at cost, with no profit to Danaher”.

The firm has committed to a “third-party assessment” of the cost and to adjust pricing accordingly, if necessary, “so that Danaher can assure that it continues to earn no profit from these cartridge sales”.

Danaher CEO Rainer M. Blair said the firm is “committed to solving critical healthcare challenges impacting patients around the world. Today’s agreement to provide the Global Fund with ‘at-cost’ TB tests for low- and middle-income countries will help improve the lives of millions of people.

“TB is the leading cause of infectious disease-related deaths worldwide and accurate, fast diagnosis is the critical first step to effective treatment.”

Lucica Ditiu of the Stop TB Partnership credited “the efforts of multiple partners, TB survivors, civil society and advocates from the TB and health space as well as simple citizens who care for people with TB” for achieving the change – after the usually low-profile Danaher found itself flooded with memes, emails and calls from Green and his followers.

Stijn Deborggraev of the MSF Access Campaign said the move was a “step in the right direction,” adding: “We commend the activism and enthusiasm of the global coalition of civil society and TB activists that escalated the ‘Time For Five’ campaign over the last week and made this important reduction happen.

“More than one in three people with TB goes undiagnosed, and undiagnosed TB kills people, so having more affordable tests will allow treatment providers and governments to test more people and offer them the treatment they need to stay alive and get healthy again.”

Peter Sands, executive director of the Global Fund, said: “I very much welcome Danaher’s commitment which should enable significantly expanded access to the communities most in need.

“Reducing the price of these sophisticated TB tests by 20 per cent will give a significant boost to our collective efforts to scale up testing and save lives.”

In a YouTube video, John Green said: “This is really amazing progress for those living with and fighting TB, and it’s a big win for our community, as well as the folks we’ve worked in deep partnership with, many of whom have been involved in this fight for years.

“When we talk about millions more tests being available, we’re really talking about the opportunity to change millions of lives for the better.”

Noting the need for price reductions on other TB tests, he said: “The work is definitely not finished, really it’s just beginning.”

Tuberculosis remains the world’s most deadly infectious disease, claiming 1.5 million lives each year, despite a series of effective treatments that remain prohibitively out of reach for many.

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