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Congrats to Big Pharma on Finding a New Way to Profit Off of HIV Prevention

Gilead, the company that makes Truvada, just got FDA approval for Descovy, another form of PrEP. It costs nearly $1,800 a month without insurance coverage.

by Harron Walker
Oct 4 2019, 6:26pm

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

A new form of PrEP is ready to hit the market, which would be pretty great news if it didn’t cost nearly $1,800 out of pocket without insurance.

The FDA approved Descovy for daily use as PrEP—or preexposure prophylaxis, which refers to drugs that prevent HIV transmission—among people who have receptive anal sex, Reuters reported on Thursday. Truvada, the only brand-name PrEP currently approved for use in the United States, will still be the recommended option for people who have receptive vaginal sex, according to NBC News.

Descovy, manufactured by Gilead Sciences Inc., contains a new formulation of a drug used in Truvada, also manufactured by Gilead. Clinical trials have shown that patients taking Descovy have better overall bone and renal health than those on Truvada, though Truvada, the only brand-name PrEP currently approved for use in the United States, will still be the recommended option for people who have receptive vaginal sex, per NBC News.

Gilead’s efforts to get another form of PrEP on the market might seem good on its face, giving HIV-negative patients more agency over how they manage their preventative care. But Reuters reports that Descovy will cost $1,758 per month out of pocket, which is just as much as Gilead charges for Truvada. Most public and private insurers cover PrEP, as NBC News notes, but not everyone has public or private health insurance or access to the systems that make such coverage available. It should also be noted that Gilead’s efforts to get Descovy on the market are likely tied to Truvada losing its patent protection next year. Once that happens, generic—and presumably more affordable—versions of the drug will enter the market, competing with Gilead and syphoning off their profits.

It really makes you wonder: What might health care look like if pharmaceutical companies like Gilead weren’t allowed to treat it like a consumer marketplace? Would Descovy, Truvada, or any other form of PrEP be available over the counter? In a gumball machine at the door of every gay bar? Used to ship fragile objects as a more environmentally sustainable alternative to packing peanuts? Ugh, a girl can dream. Until then, this waking nightmare!

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