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Senators inquire sbout PrEP pricing and patents
by Matt Simonette

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U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth ( D-IL ) is among seven U.S. senators who were signatories on an April 23 letter asking Health and Human Services Secretary Alex M. Azar and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ( CDC ) Director Robert Redfield, M.D., about the specifics of patents, licensing and manufacturing of the oral medication Truvada.

The high cost of Truvada, which has proven to be over 90 percent effective in preventing new HIV infections, has been a deterrent in its wide adoption among consumers. A bottle of the medication costs between $1,500-2,000 per month. Truvada is manufactured by Foster City, California-based Gilead Pharmaceuticals.

A coalition of activists have recently called attention to a key conundrum surrounding that price-point: The federal government paid for the research and development that went into Truvada's PrEP usage, raising the question of why the medication is priced so high. The patents are held by the federal government as well.

The senators wrote in their April 23 letter that, "PrEP was invented—and patented—by scientists working for the CDC. These patents are held by the United States of America, as represented by the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.

"Based on an analysis of these patents and the FDA-approved prescribing information for Truvada, Gilead appears to potentially be marketing a prescription drug for usages that are patented by the government."

In a statement to Windy City Times, Duckworth said, "U.S. taxpayers paid for the development of this life-saving drug and own the rights to it. That is why it's so outrageous that a private pharmaceutical company is gouging consumers and making it difficult for many Americans to afford it. My colleagues and I are demanding answers on how this happened, and to ensure Gilead both lowers Truvada's cost and is held accountable for its actions."

PrEP is a central component to several initiatives to eliminate new HIV transmissions, among them the state of Illinois' Getting to Zero campaign.

Additional signatories on the letter included U.S. Sens. Tammy Baldwin ( D-WI ), Bernie Sanders ( I-VT ), Richard Blumenthal ( D-CT ), Ben Cardin ( D-MD ), Chris Van Hollen ( D-MD ) and Debbie Stabenow ( D-MI ); Stabenow led the inquiry. Redfield and Azar have until May 7 to respond.

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