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John Green vs. Johnson & Johnson (part 1)

23 minutes

This episode  is special. When we heard that widely-beloved writer John Green was rallying his online community  around a fight over drug prices — and apparently making a difference — we were pumped. And this story took us in so many different directions:  Literally around the world, and then straight back home.

The drug in question is bedaquiline, made by Johnson & Johnson. It treats drug-resistant tuberculosis, and its price has been a huge obstacle to getting it to places it’s needed most — primarily places far away from the U.S.

But the reason this TB drug costs so much overseas is also one of the main reasons that important drugs here are so expensive — drugs like insulin, Humira and… well, just about everything:  

Legalistic patent games that pharma companies have mastered. 

So, in addition to John Green — and yes, we talked with John Green — we also talked with one of the world’s leading experts on drug-patent games, Tahir Amin.

Also, John Green is a great storyteller. So hearing him tell the story of how he became obsessed with tuberculosis is bittersweet.

And in order to make sense of any of this, we had to dig into the story of how John Green and his brother Hank became (and remain) YouTube superstars. 

For more than 16 years, they’ve been building a community of “nerdfighters” — nerds fighting to make the world a better place. It’s a profoundly sweet and fun story, and everything we’re trying to do here owes them a debt. 

Oh, finally:  This is, as you’re probably guessing by now, an epic story.  It’s gonna take two full episodes of An Arm and a Leg to tell it all.  

So, we hope you enjoy part one. There’s more coming in a few weeks.

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