(San Francisco, CA)—AIDS activists disrupted Gilead’s annual general meeting of shareholders today, confronting CEO Daniel O’Day with demands that Gilead stop obstructing access to an essential HIV prevention medicine. The activists are part of a coalition confronting Gilead over its excessive pricing of tenofovir+emtricitabine (a combination known as pre-exposure prophylaxis [PrEP] or by the brand name Truvada). The coalition, including ACT UP New York, Health GAP, Housing Works, #PrEP4All Collaboration, Treatment Action Group, and VOCAL-NY, is demanding the government to use provisions of U.S. law that would allow it to break Gilead’s monopoly and cut costs by introducing generic forms of PrEP.
Gilead has set the price at about $2,000 per month in the U.S., while generic versions available outside the U.S. are sold for as little as $6 per month. Gilead made $3 billion in sales from the drug in 2018; however, the company spent almost nothing to research PrEP and bring it to market. Taxpayers funded virtually all of the clinical research that was needed to prove effectiveness.
When taken as directed, PrEP is highly effective at preventing someone from becoming HIV-positive and is the only prevention tool that does not require partner consent or cooperation—yet only about 167,000 people in the U.S. are currently taking it, just 10% of those it is estimated could benefit.
“Profiteering by Gilead is harming communities, and undermining the response to HIV,” said Emily Sanderson of Health Global Access Project (Health GAP), who participated in the disruption, confronting Gilead Executive Management. “We call on the National Institutes of Health to break the stranglehold that Gilead has on PrEP in the U.S., or Gilead should release its patents—immediately.” Gilead also announced today that its pay-to-delay deal preventing generic PrEP availability in the US with Teva pharmaceuticals would expire in September 2020.
Jack Powell, a member of ACT UP New York and a participant in the protest today, confronted Gilead CEO’s with his experience of a lapse in PrEP coverage because of Gilead’s excessive price. “Our health and lives should not be held hostage to the whims of greedy executives like Gilead CEO Daniel O’Day,” he said.
During the 2019 State of the Union Address, President Trump announced a $291 million HIV initiative that will rely heavily on PrEP. Activists point out that Gilead’s excessive price means the program will be a massive giveaway to Gilead, and will tie the hands of community groups starved for resources to scale up effective prevention and treatment programs, particularly in southern states, and among gay men, people of color, transgender people, people who use drugs, sex workers, and other communities made vulnerable by stigma, discrimination, racism or criminalization. The new initiative is directed by Health and Human Services Secretary Azar, a former pharmaceutical executive. “This administration is carrying water for Gilead. Maximizing pharma profits rather than saving lives and halting new infections is unacceptable,” said Brittany Herrick of Health GAP.
Health GAP is an international advocacy organization dedicated to ensuring that all people living with HIV have access to affordable life sustaining medicines. Our team pairs pragmatic policy work with audacious grassroots action to win equitable access to treatment, care and prevention for people living with and affected by HIV worldwide. We are dedicated to eliminating barriers to universal access to affordable life sustaining medicines for people living with HIV/AIDS as key to a comprehensive strategy to confront and ultimately stop the AIDS pandemic. We believe that the human right to life and to health must prevail over the pharmaceutical industry’s excessive profits and expanding patent rights.