Government’s Rare Step to Sue Gilead Sciences Should Put Corporate Prescription Profiteers On Notice

Statement of Zain Rizvi, Law and Policy Researcher, Public Citizen’s Access to Medicines Program

Note: The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on Wednesday sued biopharmaceutical giant Gilead Sciences, Inc. for infringement of patents related to the publicly funded breakthrough HIV prevention products, Truvada and Descovy. The drugmaker benefited from government-funded research that showed the effectiveness of using the drugs for pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). Public Citizen has joined patient activists to push lawmakers and the federal government to act to make Truvada affordable.

The fact that the federal government sued a drugmaker over a medication developed in part with taxpayer money is a milestone. We hope that it marks a fundamental shift in how the government will think about the many other medicines developed using public funding that remain unaffordable for millions of Americans.

For too long, Gilead has charged exorbitant prices for a taxpayer-funded invention that could help end AIDS if it were made widely available. Instead, the company has continued to reap billions in revenues while the rate of new HIV infections has not gone down.

HHS alleges that Gilead has “exaggerated its role in developing PrEP.” The PrEP story is disturbing, but it is not unusual. As with many new medicines, taxpayers pay twice: first through public funding of research and development, then for the monopoly prices the companies set after piggybacking on federal investments.

HHS must use its leverage to make PrEP affordable for all and help end AIDS nationwide. And it should use this newfound zeal for promoting taxpayer interest by enforcing its Bayh-Dole march-in rights to generate generic competition to greatly bring down prices for publicly-funded inventions. Taxpayers should never have to pay twice.