Health

Walls Close in on Pharma Giants Limiting Access to HIV Prevention Drugs

Gilead Sciences faces yet another lawsuit over its "price-gouging" business practices that make PrEP too expensive for many people who need it.
February 6, 2020, 6:49pm
prep, truvada, descovy, gilead, gilead sciences, lawsuits, lawsuit, antitrust, monopoly, pharma, malpractice, price-gouging, hiv, aids,
Photo by YakubovAlim via Getty Images

Gilead Sciences Inc., the much maligned pharmaceutical company that makes the only forms of PrEP currently approved for use in the United States, just got smacked with yet another legal setback.

After bogarting the production of life-saving HIV prevention meds for nearly a decade, Gilead may soon be forced to give up that control and allow other companies to make generics of its brand-name drug Truvada. That’s one possible outcome of the ongoing legal battle between Gilead and the U.S. government. The Department of Health and Human Services sued the pharmaceutical giant last November for relying on government-owned patents to sell Truvada and the recently approved Descovy, thereby profiting off of years of taxpayer-funded research—something that activist group PrEP4All discovered and made public in March of last year, which prompted the government to act.

More recently, Gilead requested that the court invalidate the government’s patents and, with it, the DHHS’s legal claims. But a federal panel rejected that bid on Wednesday, Stat reported, allowing the lawsuit to continue.

“This is a major victory for activists and the U.S. government,” James Krellenstein, a member of activist group PrEP4All, told Stat after learning about the court’s decision. “This reinforces the position that the CDC patents are fully valid and enforceable, and that Gilead willfully and recklessly infringed on valid patents that form a major revenue center in their product pipeline.”

This comes at a time when Gilead, long accused of price-gouging by activist groups, is already mired in yet another legal mess. It’s a class action antitrust lawsuit brought on by activists and people living with HIV claiming that Gilead and other pharmaceutical companies coordinated Gilead’s exclusive control over Prep sales and manufacturing in the U.S. so that the company would not have any competition in the market.

A district court judge in San Francisco set a date for the trial during a hearing last month, per The Bay Area Reporter, so Gilead better get ready to defend its dubious-seeming business practices come 2022.

Charging nearly $1,800 for a one-month supply of PrEP might have been good for business. The same goes for creating an alleged monopoly on the market of a highly effective form of HIV prevention. But in our profit-driven health care system, what’s good for the bottom line isn’t always what’s good for the people. Perhaps the tides are slowly turning on which of those two is valued.

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