With the Public Attuned to Drug Pricing, Advocates Request Affordable Rate for New HIV Drug

The debate over pricing of HIV-related drugs recently spilled over into mainstream media, bringing renewed public attention to the challenges of drug accessibility in the U.S. Turing Pharmaceuticals recently announced that it had acquired rights to a drug called Daraprim and intended to raise the price from $13.50 per pill to $750 per pill, making the yearly cost of treatment spiral into hundreds of thousands of dollars per individual patient. While Daraprim is not an HIV treatment medication, it is used to treat toxoplasmosis, a parasitic infection that can be life threatening to some people with AIDS due to their suppressed immunity. Due to the intensely negative public and media response, Turing CEO Martin Shkreli subsequently announced that the price increase would be substantially less, though the new price has not yet been made public.

In the article detailing the Turing price hike, the New York Times' Andrew Pollack reported that price hikes on drugs needed by HIV/AIDS patients and others are less unusual than many may realize. However, this is no surprise to the HIV community, where there's been sustained advocacy and militant protest on drug costs for decades.

Although many individuals and groups have challenged the cost of HIV/AIDS treatments, a central coalition has been the hub for this work in the United States. The Fair Pricing Coalition (FPC) was founded in 1998 by activists who advocate with pharmaceutical companies for fair pricing of HIV and viral hepatitis drugs, with the goal of "ensuring that the prices set for new HIV and hepatitis drugs do not increase the net cost of treating people living with those diseases."

In its current campaign, the FPC is advocating for Gilead Sciences to ensure that product pricing for HIV drugs co-formulated with tenofovir alafenamide fumarate (TAF) remain on par with pricing for drugs co-formulated with tenofovir disoproxil fumarate (TDF). TAF is a substitute for TDF that may have a lower risk of bone and kidney toxicity. FPC believes that HIV patients should not have to pay more for new formulations of co-formulated (multiple agent) antiretrovirals that include TAF than they would for the same drugs made with TDF.

In a recent open letter addressed to Gilead CEO John C. Martin from Fair Pricing Coalition, 115 organizations and 376 individual activists and advocates signed in support of FPC's request that Gilead price the new TAF co-formulations fairly. A meeting is scheduled between members of FPC and Gilead's senior staff on October 12 to discuss wholesale costs of the drug and access plans for combination pills that include TAF.

Jennifer Johnson Avril is a communications professional and HIV/AIDS activist based in New York City. She is a master's candidate in media studies for social change.