US appeal in high-stakes Gilead patent case garners support from patient advocates

Weeks after Gilead Sciences prevailed over the U.S. government in a high-stakes HIV patent case, patient advocates are backing the U.S.’ push to appeal. 

In a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra, more than 30 organizations said they “commend the decision” by the Department of Justice (DOJ) to keep fighting in the case. 

After the recent trial went in Gilead’s favor on May 9, the DOJ is seeking a new trial, according to the letter. 

The groups said they “strongly support HHS’s and DOJ’s decision to contest the surprising verdict,” arguing that the government's case remains “fundamentally strong.”

The U.S. first sued Gilead in 2019, saying that taxpayers funded research in the early 2000s that eventually went into the company’s lucrative HIV prevention medicines. U.S. officials said they sought to license the patented technology to Gilead for many years but that Gilead refused.

The case carries major financial stakes; the U.S. has sought more than $1 billion for the alleged patent infringement. 

For its part, Gilead countersued in 2020, claiming that the U.S. broke the terms of their research collaboration by filing for the patents in the first place. 

After years of litigation and a trial in early May, Gilead pulled out a win when a federal jury said the U.S.’ patents were invalid.  

That decision confirmed the company's “longstanding belief that we have always had the rights to make Truvada and Descovy for PrEP available to all who need it,” the company's general counsel Deb Telman said in a statement at the time. 

But the government isn’t dropping the case just like that. Now, its appeal has garnered support from groups including the International Planned Parenthood Federation and Public Citizen.

In the letter, the PrEP advocates said if the U.S. were to win and score a royalty from Gilead, the funds could provide money for PrEP treatment, HIV testing and “related care."

Signing the letter were Jeremiah Johnson, executive director of the patient advocacy group PrEP4All; Alex Moss, executive director of the Public Interest Patent Law Institute; and Christopher Morten, Ph.D., director of the Science, Health, and Information Clinic at Columbia Law School.

Gilead's PrEP drug Descovy pulled in $1.9 billion last year, while aging Truvada, which suffered a patent expiry in 2021, generated $147 million.