Last week, the Trump administration announced a lawsuit against pharmaceutical manufacturer, Gilead Sciences, for profiting off of taxpayer-funded research without returning any wealth to the public.
About the lawsuit
The medications at the core of the lawsuit are HIV preventatives, Truvada and Descovy. Taking one of these medications daily to prevent transmission is called pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP.
The Trump administration aims to reduce HIV transmission by 75 percent by 2025 and “end the HIV epidemic in America” by 2030. However, these drugs are currently priced out of reach of many low-income, high-risk people who need access the most. The administration cannot accomplish this goal until something is done about drug pricing.
Why are the drugs so expensive?
Truvada was developed by Drs. Thomas Folks and Robert Grant along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The team received a $50 million federal grant to research and develop the drug.
The drug was approved by the FDA in 2012 to prevent transmission of HIV, and the U.S. government patented the drug in 2015. However, Gilead has collected $3 billion in profits on Truvada alone in 2018, all while keeping the price of the drug extremely high for Americans. For example, the monthly cost of Truvada is $8 in Australia, but the cash price in the United States is $1,780 in 2019.
Gilead claims the company cannot lower the price of Truvada within the United States due to patent laws. However, the company has repeatedly sued rival companies trying to introduce generic versions to the U.S. drug market. Additionally, these companies have sold generic versions of the drug to consumers outside of the United States, but they are barred from selling to American patients.
Isn’t this a protected class drug?
Yes, drugs to treat HIV/AIDS and prevent HIV transmission are on a list of protected class drugs which insurance companies must cover by law. However, private insurers can determine how much of the cost to cover, leaving the consumer to pick up the rest. This means that even if an American patient has health insurance–and 37 million Americans do not–they still may be unable to afford the medications.
Other attempts to reduce drug prices
The Trump administration has made several other attempts to reduce drug prices over the past three years. However, none of them have succeeded, and some of them have been called off with no explanation.
Reducing drug prices has become a rare topic of bipartisan support, indicating that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are willing to work to bring Americans affordable prescription medication.