Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Elijah Cummings, Activists Beat Big Pharma Over The Head With Generic PReP
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The pharmaceutical giant Gilead Sciences, Inc. -- heck of a name for these times -- recently announced US sales of a generic version of its HIV prevention drug Truvada would begin a year earlier than originally planned. The stepped-up schedule for the generic was at least in part the result of pressure from activists, who have made a lot of noise about the fact that Gilead's huge revenues from Truvada -- about $3 billion annually -- came only after the basic research for the drug was done at taxpayer expense, largely through grants from the Centers for Disease Control, which holds the patent on the drug.

At a House Oversight Committee hearing last week, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez let one of the witnesses, Gilead CEO Daniel O'Day, know she wasn't personally blaming him or his greed for the high cost of the drug, which prevents the spread of HIV through "pre-exposure prophylaxis" (PrEP). No, that's all a result of the terrible incentives that come from the fact that the US, alone among developed countries, treats healthcare as a commodity, not a right for all. Which is why a monthly supply of Truvada costs nearly $1800 here, and roughly eight dollars in Australia.

AOC Confronts Gilead CEO for $2,000 Price Tag for HIV Drug

O'Day claimed in his testimony that Gilead had invented the drug all on its own and that government researchers didn't build that, but Robert Grant, a professor of medicine at UC San Francisco, who's been called the "father of PReP," called shenanigans.

Grant testified that he devoted 20 years of research to developing PrEP with grants from the U.S. government and nonprofits.

Grant said the pharmaceutical company had been a "reluctant partner" as he researched the use of Truvada to prevent HIV. The company "did not provide leadership, innovation or funding," Grant said, even as it sought to block competing drugs from coming to market.

What's more, Ocasio-Cortez said, taxpayers are paying twice for the drug: We paid for the science that developed it, and thanks to Gilead's patent protection, we lucky duckies also get to pay high prices at the pharmacy and for the inflated monopoly price of the stuff through Medicare and Medicaid purchases.

"There's no reason this should be $2,000 a month. People are dying because of it," the New York Democrat said. "We developed this drug."

Roll Call notes that, according to Gilead's own estimates, "just 200,000 of the estimated 1.1 million Americans at risk of contracting HIV currently receive Truvada for PrEP[.]"

As for Gilead's patting itself on the back for moving up the US release of the generic, the PrEP4All Collaboration released a statement by Dr. Aaron Lord (who also appeared at last week's hearing) that welcomed the news, but cautioned, "PrEP4All remains suspicious of the terms and lack of transparency" in the agreement with Israel-based manufacturer Teva. Lord noted that the announcement still leaves Gilead with a monopoly on the drug for another 15 months, and that the arrival of a single generic drug "will do little to reduce the price in a way that will increase access."

If this is such great news for people at risk for HIV, asked Dr. Lord, "what's to stop them -- other than a desire for profit margins -- from releasing the rights now?"

Still, let's hear it for leaders who want to use government to help people, not those who think it's all about protecting profit above all else. In a thread on Twitter today, Ocasio-Cortez thanked a staffer for bringing the concerns of activists to her attention, and thanked Oversight Chair Elijah Cummings for taking those concerns -- and a freshman member of the House -- seriously enough to focus a committee meeting on the issue. Just a reminder: This is how government is supposed to work for people (even if Yr Dok Zoom wants to quibble with the implied causal relationship between last Thursday's hearing and the announcement of the generic, which came a week before that).

Even so, Giving Them Hell helped raise the profile of the fight (we're writing about it!) and for that, Ocasio-Cortez, her staff, and Elijah Cummings all deserve credit.

Here's Ocasio-Cortez's portion of the questioning; the full hearing can be seen here.

Rep. Ocasio-Cortez examine the Gilead's pricing for an HIV prevention drug known as Truvada for

Correction/Update: After getting the committee right in the second graf, we promptly referred to Elijah Cummings as chair of "Ways and Means" in a later paragraph. Dok has been exiled to Kentucky, Tennessee, or possibly New Brunswick, and Wonkette regrets the error.

[NBC News / Roll Call / WaPo / Rolling Stone / PREP4ALL Collaboration]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.


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