Ocasio-Cortez, colleagues probing Gilead over HIV drug donations

Top House Democrats are probing an agreement between Gilead Sciences and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to provide millions of vials of HIV drug Truvada, honing in on whether the patents the U.S. government owns for the treatment influenced the arrangement.

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The Foster City, California-based company previously agreed to donate 2.4 million vials of Truvada per year to the CDC, which can cost upwards of $2,000 a month.

But in a letter to CEO Daniel O’Day, House Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings and colleagues requested information on the pricing for Truvada – also known as PrEP -- and if the donation was connected to who owns the intellectual property for the drug.

“Gilead has taken a position that the government’s patents are not valid. We would like to understand whether these patents played any role in negotiations between the company and the Department of Health and Human Services,” the Maryland Democrat, along with Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ro Khanna of California and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, wrote.

A Gilead spokesperson said the firm is reviewing the full scope of the request and plans to respond to the committee.

The Democratic quartet is requesting, among other things, all communications with HHS and CDC officials and correspondences related to the pricing of Truvada.

The HIV prevention treatment earned Gilead $3 billion in sales in 2018, but the federal government currently receives no royalties from the drug despite taxpayer dollars footing the bill for the research that led to the new use of the medication.

Critics have called on the CDC to be more aggressive in protecting and earning from the innovations that the private industry discovers using public funds.

Attention on the dispute was heightened when President Trump announced during his State of the Union address that the White House would seek to eradicate HIV/AIDS by 2030.

Public health experts say Truvada, which can reduce the risk for the disease by 99 percent, is a key part of achieving that goal.

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Sen. Kamala Harris, a California Democrat who is running for the party’s nomination in the 2020 election, previously introduced legislation to require insurers to cover the cost of the drug.