AIDS advocacy group hits out at 'Greediad' Gilead for drug pricing hikes

Pharma’s reputation has long been a source of woe for the industry. While the pandemic boosted the public's overall sentiments toward the sector, those feelings are now waning, and returning are the historical issues that have dogged companies.

For Gilead Sciences, that recurring criticism is drug pricing—an issue that has raised its head time and time again in American politics but this week is being squarely focused on Gilead by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) group, a longtime critic of the company.

The AHF, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization providing meds and care to HIV/AIDS patients and carers, said in a release that Gilead “is now refusing to offer the 340B discount price for HIV drugs to providers who use contract pharmacies.”

The federal 340B Drug Pricing Program allows qualifying hospitals and clinics that treat low-income and uninsured patients to buy outpatient prescription drugs at a discount of 25% to 50%. But Gilead is placing “unlawful restrictions on 340B contract pharmacy programs” to get around these discounts, according to AHF's release.

In response to a request for comment from Fierce Pharma Marketing, a Gilead spokesperson said the company's "Contract Pharmacy Integrity Initiative does not apply to Gilead’s HIV medicines."

The AHF also argues that at the start of the year, Gilead “suddenly, dramatically increased the price that safety net providers pay for Descovy,” the California-based company’s HIV treatment and prevention therapy.

To protest, AHF is hosting a weeklong, twice-daily series of protests targeting Gilead's drug pricing and policies. The protesters, who have repurposed Gilead’s logo as “Greediad,” will start protesting each day in the morning and afternoon in front of the drugmaker's headquarters in the Bay Area in California.

A larger theatrical protest with costumes—a $1 million dollar bill, pigs’ heads and snouts, advocates dressed as burglars with money bags slung over their shoulders—is also set for this week.

In conjunction with the Gilead protests, AHF said it will also run a series of Gilead/Greediad ads in several Bay Area print and online publications.

Gilead's spokesperson said the company's "role in ending the HIV and hepatitis epidemics is to discover, develop, and ensure access to our life-saving medicines."

"As a leader in HIV, we will continue to work together with the HIV community and policymakers to overcome the remaining barriers to HIV prevention, care and treatment, and to advance public health initiatives to combat HIV, particularly in regions hardest hit in the United States," she added.

In January, Gilead upped the price of its two main HIV drugs, Biktarvy and Descovy, by 5.6%, though it is certainly not alone in this price tag push as drugs companies raised prices on hundreds of medications Jan. 1, with most prices up 5% on average. Prices went up on 460 drugs in total, which tracks in line with recent years, with the New Year being the traditional time that pharma decides to up its prices.

HIV and AIDS drugs have, however, always been more susceptible to blowback from price hikes, given that patients need them to stay alive and healthy and have little choice but to pay out for them. Because of this, Gilead is no stranger to controversy in this arena. Many consumer groups have knocked the drugmaker’s alleged profiteering with its HIV/AIDS meds portfolio before, and it is no surprise that Gilead and the AHF have history.

Back in 2019, the group called on Gilead to “do the right thing now” and drop Descovy’s list price following its FDA approval that year as a preexposure HIV treatment for homosexual men and transgender women.

AHF made the bold request that Gilead drop the drug’s cost to $1 per pill—Gilead sells it for around $60 per pill—which Gilead declined.

“We are fighting against Gilead’s greed to fatten their corporate pockets,” Jesse Brooks, AIDS advocate and AHF mobilizer, said in the release. In 2021, Descovy sales were down 9% year over year, though it still brought in $1.7 billion last year.

“Their money-making schemes not only impact community partners and providers but also patients, like myself," Brooks added. "I am one of many voices of community advocates who stand against pharma greed. Gilead cares more about money than lives.”

Editor's note: This story was updated with a statement from Gilead Sciences.