HIV-preventing PrEP drugs to be offered free in US under ‘deal’

Pre-exposure prophylaxis drugs are a HIV prevention method

HIV-preventing PrEP drugs will be made available for free to 200,000 people in the US, it has been announced.

It was announced on Thursday (May 9) that pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) drug Truvada will be made available for free for nearly a quarter of a million people in the United States for 11 years.

Pharmaceutical giant Gilead holds the patent over PrEP drug Truvada, which can drastically reduce the risk of being infected with HIV if taken daily, and is recommended for use by at-risk gay and bisexual men.

PrEP drugs will be free of charge under deal

In a statement, the company announced it would “provide up to 2.4 million bottles of Truvada annually for uninsured Americans at risk for HIV,” free of charge, under an “agreement” with the Trump administration.

Gilead separately confirmed that it will lift the patent on the drug’s use for PrEP a year early, in September 2020, allowing a generic version onto the market in the US.

However, activists are sceptical about the timing of the agreement, which come just a week after the US Justice Department announced a federal investigation into alleged price-gouging practices around the drug’s use.

PrEP Impact trial: Man holding a pill used for Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) to prevent HIV infection

PrEP: Man holding a pill used for Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) to prevent HIV infection

Gilead’s release also reconfirms plans to transition PrEP patients to a drug that has fewer side effects, Descovy, which would conveniently maintain the company’s lucrative patent over PrEP provisions for years to come.

HIV researcher Dr Rochelle Walensky told the New York Times: “The real cost of Truvada is about $60 a year. If you really wanted to cover everybody, you’d cut the price to everyone.

“If I put on my cynical hat, I think this is the way they make sure they grow the market for Descovy.

“It will promote the idea that Descovy is better — and I’m not sure that’s a dialogue we want to present.”

Trump hails ‘historic donation’ of PrEP drugs

The decision was nonetheless celebrated by the Trump administration.

A tweet sent from President Trump’s Twitter account said: “Great news today: My Administration just secured a historic donation of HIV prevention drugs from Gilead to help expand access to PrEP for the uninsured and those at risk.

“Will help us achieve our goal of ending the HIV epidemic in America!”

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex M. Azar II said: “Securing this commitment is a major step in the Trump Administration’s efforts to use the prevention and treatment tools we have to end the HIV epidemic in America by 2030.

“Under President Trump’s leadership, HHS worked with Gilead to secure preventative medication for individuals who might otherwise not be able to access or afford this important treatment.

“The majority of Americans who are at risk and who could protect themselves with PrEP are still not receiving the medication.

“This agreement will help close that gap substantially and deliver on President Trump’s promise to end the HIV epidemic in America.”

Gregg Alton of Gilead Sciences said: “We are proud to partner with CDC to dramatically expand access to medication that can help prevent new HIV infections.

“We believe today’s donation, combined with efforts to address the root causes of the epidemic, such as racism, violence against women, stigma, homophobia and transphobia, can play an important role in ending the HIV epidemic in the United States, particularly in parts of the country with the highest burden of disease.”