Gilead Sciences, the pharmaceutical that makes Truvada, the only FDA-approved drug for PrEP, is having a great week in the public relations department. First, Gilead announced they were surrendering their patent for Truvada a year early, and now Federal officials have announced that Gilead will donate enough Truvada for 200,000 people in the United States.
Don't fall for this. Gilead is engaged in a brilliantly self-serving marketing ploy and dressing it up like charity. Their deeply entrenched ownership of our governmental and community HIV response is as clear as ever. This ownership isn't absolute; there are activists and national community leaders who see this ploy for what it is. #PrEP4All has met the news with great skepticism, and national non-profit leaders, who depend upon Gilead funding, have damned the announcement with faint praise.
Here are five reasons why Gilead is simply building profits and ignoring pleas to do some real good.
1. Gilead is offering no-cost Truvada for 200,000 when it could make it affordable for everyone.
It costs Gilead pennies to make Truvada. It charges $20,000 a year for it. If Gilead really wanted to end this epidemicand make no mistake, they have the ability to fundamentally alter the trajectory of HIV in the United Statesthen it would lower the price of Truvada across the board, for everyone. And by lower, I mean by a lot.
And the math is way off. We don't need 200,000 more people on PrEP. We need a million more people on PrEP.
Did I mention that Gilead will claim many, many millions of dollars in lost revenue on their corporate taxes as a result of their generosity?
2. Gilead is only providing Truvada for non-insured persons. People with insurance need it just as much.
There are people with health insurance who still face barriers to PrEP. They have high deductibles and co-pays, for instance, or they take one look at the bureaucracy of prior authorizations and co-pay assistance cards and just give up.
3. Gilead's big donation creates new customers for its new PrEP drug, Descovy.
This might be Gilead at their most vile. By offering free Truvada to 200,000 people, they are creating a customer base for the arrival of their new drug, Descovy, which awaits FDA approval for use as PrEP.
Descovy does not cause the side effects that Truvada patients have had. Gilead knew about the Truvada side effects years ago, but they waited all this time to introduce Descovy because they wanted to run out the clock on Truvada's patent, yes, even while knowing Truvada was causing debilitating side effects in thousands of people along the way. This is just another chapter in the rich, sick history of Gilead's corporate profiteering.
4. Gilead is unloading an obsolete PrEP drug and charging full price for its new one.
Once Descovy is FDA-approved next year for PrEP, Gilead will have an additional 200,000 new Truvada customers that they can try and talk into taking their new, improved version. For which they will be charging the full price of $20,000 per year.
5. The Truvada-as-PrEP patent belongs to U.S. taxpayers. Where are the royalties we deserve?
This brings us to the topic Gilead really, really wants everyone to stop talking about. The patents for Truvada-as PrEP belong to the United States taxpayers because the research was done by the CDC, not Gilead. Considering Gilead makes $3 billion a year on the sale of Truvada, those royalties could fund our national HIV prevention response. The CDC will not discuss this.
Oh, and the CDC owns patents to Descovy-as-PrEP, too. Don't expect all the #PrEP4All activism to fade when Truvada goes generic. It won't.
Gilead is hoping that its one-day headline about its Truvada donation will appease critics of their profiteering. It does not. And from what I am hearing, there are many more headlines to come in the days ahead.
Mark S. King is a GLAAD Award nominee for his blog, My Fabulous Disease, and author of A Place Like This, his memoir of Los Angeles during the dawn of AIDS.