A report in The Washington Post, published in March, detailed that the federal government issued $50 million in grants to researchers developing PrEP. The government then patented the use of Truvada, which had been used in HIV treatment previously, for PrEP in 2015.
However, the maker of Truvada, Gilead Sciences, to date has reaped all of the profits and even earned $3 billion from sales of the drug just last year. All of this is in the wake of President Trump's "Ending the HIV Epidemic" plan.
Organizers at the advocacy group PrEP4All helped lead the investigation published in the Post, and have since led staunch efforts in calling out Gilead to answer for the unpaid patents over the years (suspected to be $1 billion, reports The New York Times, which could have been cycled through the CDC's additional programs to help end the epidemic).
Recently, Gilead announced that it will donate enough of the drug to treat 200,000 patients a year through 2030, but that's only for people who aren't already recieving financial aid from any of Gilead's programs. However, according to organizers at PrEP4All, it's going to take 1.2 million people on PrEP to end the epidemic.
Currently, more than a third of sexually active gay and bisexual men used PrEP in 2017, according to a recent report from the CDC, but usage is still "too low" among queer men of color, the federal agency's report noted.
Given that nearly 40,000 Americans are newly diagnosed with HIV each year, reducing transmission is obviously what everyone wants. But, one month’s supply of Truvada costs roughly sells for more than $1,600 — though it costs roughly $6 to make.
The mission behind PrEP4All is to pull down the barriers that keep PrEP from being widely available to any person who wants access. This year at AIDS Watch in D.C., Plus spoke with PrEP4All organizers Nick Faust and Tom Blake one week after the Post story was published.
@PrEP4AllNow has a message for @CDCgov @CDCgov @CDC_HIVAIDS @AOC @TheAdvocateMag: Billions of dollars have been taken from tax payers. It's time for action! #prep #hiv #uequalsu pic.twitter.com/cIJ2CqX8bq
— Plus Magazine (@HIVPlusMag) April 2, 2019
"We're here because last week, we released a story in The Washington Post about how the CDC owns the patents on Truvada as prep, the only HIV prevention pill," Faust begins. "But the CDC refused to enforce its patents, depriving the American public of billions of dollars of funding that could be going to HIV programs that could help end the epidemic. We were here, and I was here, to talk to our representatives including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in order to call Gilead, the manufacturer of the drug, and the CDC in front of congress so they have to answer to the American people. If we can’t get accountability from them, we’re never going to be able to end the epidemic."
Earlier that week, Faust and Blake protested CDC director Robert Redfield during his speech, crying out for him to answer to the CDC's refusal to account for its patent royalties.
— Plus Magazine (@HIVPlusMag) April 1, 2019
Thanks to PrEP4All's staunch protests, Gilead announced that it would release its patent on Truvada a year earlier than anticipated to the Israeli-based Teva Pharmaceuticals, the world's largest manufacturer of generic drugs, allowing them to release a generic version of Truvada on September 30, 2020.
While it might appear like good news, PrEP4All remains cautious.
Aaron S. Lord, MD, a spokesperson for PrEP4All, said in a statement that while it was "a victory for the LGBTQ+ community, for HIV activists, and for U.S. taxpayers," he still wants answers regarding Gilead's settlement with Teva and a lack of generic alternatives.
"Even their announcement today leaves Gilead with exclusive rights to Truvada as PrEP for another 15 months and Teva as the only generic manufacturer on the U.S. market," said Lord, a physician at New York University School of Medicine. "This will do little to reduce price in a way that will increase access and PrEP4All remains suspicious of the terms and lack of transparency surrounding the Teva settlement. I have to ask, what’s to stop them — other than a desire for profit margins — from releasing the rights now?"