Gilead comes around on Truvada PrEP marketing, opening up a new world of HIV sales

Gilead's had an FDA go-ahead since 2012 to market HIV med Truvada as a preventative med for healthy people. But the company has only just started to market it that way.

Promotional activities around Truvada for pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, kicked off in July, when Gilead began marketing its med to doctors through professional publications and digital advertising, among other channels, Reuters reports.

And this fall, the Big Biotech took its message straight to consumers with print advertisements in publications aimed at the LGBTQ community, such as OUT, Advocate and SWERV. Next up? Social media and digital marketing, the company says.

It’s a change of course for Gilead, which has taken heat for failing to pump its own dollars into spreading the PrEP message. The company initially yielded to patient advocate concerns that promoting the med as a preventative could encourage promiscuity and unsafe practices.

Activists, though, railed at the California drugmaker for staying mum; thanks to that decision, doctors also didn’t know about PrEP or about Gilead’s patient assistance program, which helps most users sink monthly costs for the pricey drug to about $25.

The "criticism now is we're not saying enough," David Piontkowsky, Gilead's vice president of HIV Medical Affairs, told the news service.

Meanwhile, Truvada for PrEP has begun to catch on even without Gilead’s commercial support.  As many as 90,000 people in the U.S used the product for prevention in Q3, Reuters notes, up from 60,000 to 70,000 earlier this year. Those figures were helped by a 2014 CDC recommendation that Americans at high risk of infection—including men who have sex with men, transgender women who have sex with men, partners of people who are HIV-positive and intravenous drug users who share needles—take the pill as a preventative measure.

And 90,000 is just tip of the iceberg, according to the CDC's estimates. In 2015, the body pegged the number of Americans at substantial risk of HIV infection at about 1.2 million.

Gilead certainly wouldn’t mind seeing sales of Truvada—which totaled $1.8 billion through the first 9 months of this year—expand, especially considering the hep C slowdown that’s been whacking the company’s top line. Revolutionary meds Sovaldi and Harvoni, which broke launch records on their way to blockbuster sales, have stumbled on competition and payer discounting, with hep C sales tanking by 31% in the third quarter.