Gilead Sciences is the only drugmaker to formulate a drug approved to prevent the spread of HIV. This drug—you may have heard of it—is Truvada. It is one of the most important drugs to come to market in recent history as it will stop the spread of, perhaps, the biggest scourge of the modern human era. And now, Gilead has announced it will donate enough of the drug to supply upwards of 200,000 patients, every year, for as many as 11 years.
Truvada is a treatment you take once a day to prevent HIV infection. This strategy is called pre-exposure prophylaxis, which is more commonly known as PrEP. It is estimated that roughly one million Americans are at risk for infection and should definitely be taking the pills. Data shows, however, that only 270,000 HIV+ adults are actively taking it.
Now as promising as this plan may sound, HIV activists and medical experts do not appear to be in agreement about it. Some feel this donation is a good start towards minimizing not just the threat but also the presence of HIV, but others remind that it still only satisfies about one-fifth of the need in the United States.
Those who do not receive a donated course of Truvada treatment would probably have to pay full price for it. Of course, most Americans probably can’t afford its $20,000 per year price tag. As a matter of fact, critics have long insisted that the high-price of Truvada has been the biggest obstacle for treatment among low-income HIV patients. And, furthermore, this is why the disease may have persisted for so long.
Indeed, it seems Gilead is simply following the trend in the pharmaceutical industry (originally set in 2001 by other companies) of not refusing to cut overall prices even in the midst of a great public need. Instead of making the drug more accessible, these companies donate a limited quantity while pressuring both the US and EU governments to prevent international generics from reaching their markets.
With that, though, it is important to acknowledge that Indian pharmaceutical companies now supply almost all of the HIV drugs in Africa, where a generic version of Truvada sells for only about $60 a year. These drug versions have not made it back to the US, of course, because Gilead has sued many companies trying to introduce them to the US market. Still, a Truvada generic is expected to reach the US soon, but Gilead will launch a new HIV drug, Descovy, when that happens.