Gilead will be offering free pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) in a new partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The pharmaceutical company will be donating 2.4 million bottles of the HIV prevention drug Truvada, which it manufactures, to 200,000 uninsured individuals each year for 11 years.
Alex Azar, the secretary of Health and Human Services, discussed the partnership Thursday in a Twitter thread.
"The agreement will provide pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to treat individuals who are at risk for HIV and who are uninsured, including in the states and counties identified as priority areas in @POTUS’s plan to #EndHIVEpidemic in America," Azar stated.
"Under @POTUS’s leadership, @HHSgov worked with Gilead to secure preventative medication for uninsured individuals at risk for #HIV who might otherwise not be able to access or afford this important treatment."
Gilead gave details of its donation just minutes afterward in a press release. “We are proud to partner with CDC to dramatically expand access to medication that can help prevent new HIV infections,” said Gregg Alton, the company's chief patient officer.
“We believe today’s donation, combined with efforts to address the root causes of the epidemic, such as racism, violence against women, stigma, homophobia and transphobia, can play an important role in ending the HIV epidemic in the United States, particularly in parts of the country with the highest burden of disease.”
It is not yet announced when the program will begin or how uninsured people can apply for the free medication.
Truvada is the only drug that is approved for pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), a treatment that, if administered daily, is at least 90 percent effective in HIV prevention, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The drug is also used in combination with others in the treatment of HIV-positive people.
The CDC itself had come under fire from activists for not making PrEP more widely available and affordable — especially in the wake of President Trump's “Ending the HIV Epidemic” plan, mentioned above by Azar, which cites PrEP as a key tool in tackling the AIDS crisis.
The federal government had issued $50 million in grants to researchers to develop PrEP. And despite officially holding the patent on preventive use of Truvada since 2015, it had struggled to reach a royalties agreement with Gilead, which has disputed the government's patent claim.
Gilead, the maker of Truvada, earned $3 billion from sales of the drug in 2018 — and none of that money had gone back to the taxpayer. The drug, despite being manufactured at a relatively low price, can cost a user up to $2,000 for one month's supply. While Gilead does offer patient assistance programs, the price tag can be a deterrent for those at risk for HIV, including men who have sex with men, transgender women, young people, and people of color.
The advocacy group PrEP4All, responding to Azar's announcement on Twitter, said Gilead's donation is still not enough to properly address the AIDS crisis in the U.S. "The @CDCgov has concluded that 1.2 million people in the U.S. must be on PrEP in order for it to effectively reduce the number of HIV seroconversions annually," PrEP4All stated.
"This still leaves 1 million vulnerable people in the U.S. (a group larger than the entire population of 6 states and D.C.) with a $2000/month bill for a drug which was developed using taxpayer money," the group continued. "This isn't an 'agreement,' @SecAzar, it's hush money."
Gilead's patent on Truvada expires in 2021 — but it had reached a deal to allow Teva Pharmaceuticals to release a generic version of the HIV prevention drug September 30, 2020.