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Gilead will donate HIV prevention Truvada drug to 200k Americans

Gilead will donate HIV prevention Truvada drug to 200k Americans

A man holds a PrEP (Truvada) pill to prevent acquiring HIV

Gilead Sciences, maker of the only drug approved to prevent HIV acquisition, will donate enough of the drug to supply 200,000 Americans annually for over a decade.

The Trump administration hailed the move as part of plans to end HIV in the US by 2030, federal health officials announced on Thursday (9 May).

However, some critics have questioned the company’s motives and say the move will only impact one-fifth of the nation’s demand.

What are the plans?

Truvada is taken once daily to prevent HIV transmission, a strategy called pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP.

Moreover, the pill can cost Americans $1,675 a month, or upwards of $20,000 a year. The price has climbed steadily since it was first introduced in 2004 for managing HIV.

Gilead’s donation covers the existing Truvada pill and another drug the company has in the pipeline, Descovy, which is slated to replace Truvada.

In the meantime, a cheaper generic version of Truvada is expected to hit the US market next year.

Gilead will donate Truvada as it prepares to swap patients to Descovy.

What’s the difference between the two?

Descovy contains a new version of tenofovir, the active ingredient in Truvada.

Experts consider Truvada a very safe drug. Although kidney problems have been linked to it, Descovy appears to cause less of those side-effects.

Once the Food and Drugs Administration approves Descovy, it will be under patent protection for several years. Gilead has said it will also cost around $20,000.

While many people have these costs covered by their health insurance policies, not everyone has health insurance. It’s those who don’t who are likely to benefit from this initiative.

Trump agreement will ‘close the gap’

President Donald Trump announced an ambitious plan to end HIV during his State of the Union address earlier this year. Wider access to antiviral treatments, such as PrEP, is an anchor of that effort.

In the continued effort, the administration struck the deal with Gilead. Secretary of health and human services Alex Azar said the deal would last through to 2025 and possibly 2030.

‘This agreement will help close that gap substantially and deliver on President Trump’s promise to end the HIV epidemic in America,’ Azar said in a statement.

Criticism of Gilead

However, HIV activists and experts had mixed reactions to the donation. Some felt it is a good start, but note Gilead’s gambit is too narrow, as Dr. Rochelle Walensky said.

Speaking to the New York Times, the medic, who analyzed the costs for both the Obama and Trump administration’s HIV plans, said the public health program was a ‘noble effort, but it covers less than 20% of the people who need it.’

‘Let’s call a spade a spade,’ she said. ‘The real cost of Truvada is about $60 a year. If you really wanted to cover everybody, you’d cut the price to everyone.’

‘Promising but depressing’

Leading activists expressed frustration at the news. Many look towards a price cut for Truvada as a far more effective tactic to curb HIV.

They see the drug’s high price tag as a major barrier to stemming the spread of HIV of low-income Americans.

PrEP4All is a charity campaigning for accessible treatment. One of their founders, Peter Staley, dubbed the arrangements ‘promising but depressing.’

Given the maths, Gilead’s donation will cost the company approximately $10 million a year. Truvada is still expected to make the pharma company $3 billion in worldwide profits.

In other words, ‘this won’t cut into Gilead’s sales at all, and it’s a very cheap marketing program for Descovy,’ Staley argued.

‘We urgently need a lower price’

Mitchell Warren, the executive director of AVAC, an AIDS prevention organization, criticized the move.

Warren said Gilead could manufacture the new drug for less yet priced it the same.

‘This shows you the inherent shell game in pharmaceutical pricing,’ he said.

‘We urgently need a lower price, and it’s disappointing that even this has taken so long.’

Gilead’s patent for the Truvada in the US expires in 2021.

See also

Planned Parenthood introduces new programs for gay men and trans people

Pharma company Gilead accused of ‘intentionally withholding’ safer HIV drug

Two men open up about overcoming loneliness while living with HIV