We’ve just learned that Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) have written a letter to HHS Sec. Alex Azar and CDC Dir. Dr. Robert Redfield requesting information about the U.S. government patents on PrEP.
In the letter, the senators request information detailing what steps the government has taken to ensure government patents on emtricitabine and tenofovir (the two main components of the drug) are not being infringed by Gilead in their sale of Truvada for PrEP.
This letter is a direct result of our investigation, with the Yale Global Health Justice Partnership, which found that Gilead has been allowed to make more than $3 billion off of Truvada, while the U.S. government retains ownership of the patents. This is a big moment for our movement. It means the fight to ensure every American who wants to access PrEP is able to do so affordably is gaining momentum.
Today, the #BreakThePatent campaign and PrEP4All also sent our own letter along with more than 40 other local, state, and national organizations, demanding that the government utilize its existing authority to fund a national HIV prevention program which includes a scale-up of PrEP. The activist’s’ formal demands can be found here.
So what happens now?
In their letter, the senators request a response by May 7 at the latest. Sec. Azar has stated that negotiations with Gilead are ongoing but has made no further comment. With elected officials expressing their interest, our hope is that further discussions will be more transparent.
Should the government exert its existing patents on the drugs used in PrEP, it would open the door not only to cheaper generics, but also allow the government to reroute funds already in use to help break down structural barriers that keep the most vulnerable populations from accessing the medication. We need more robust education, outreach, and funding to help communities hardest hit by the HIV epidemic access this potentially life saving drug.
We will keep you updated as this exciting development continues.
Onward and upward!
– Robert Kessler