The New York Times Exposes How Gilead Devised Egregious Patent Strategy to Extend Monopoly on HIV Treatment, By Delaying Access to “Less Toxic” Version

In case you missed it, on Saturday The New York Times published an article exposing how brand name drug maker Gilead employed a greedy patent strategy around a pair of blockbuster HIV treatments to maximize profits while blocking access to newer versions of those treatments proven to be safer for patients.

As The Times writes, “Gilead had devised a plan to delay the new drug’s release to maximize profits, even though executives had reason to believe it might turn out to be safer for patients.”

The Gilead scheme offers a particularly egregious case study in the Big Pharma practice of “product hopping,” one of the pharmaceutical industry’s commonly employed tactics to game the patent system. Product-hopping involves a drug manufacturer making changes to an existing product — then patenting those changes before an original product expires to extend exclusively, delay competition and keep prices high.

According to The Times, internal documents from Gilead showed executives and researchers at the company were aware that a newer version of one of their HIV drugs, Truvada, “had the potential to be less toxic to patients’ kidneys and bones than the earlier iteration.” However, the company purposefully delayed the development of this “less toxic” treatment so that its eventual release would coincide with the loss of patent protection around Gilead’s existing HIV treatments that were already on the market. This meant Gilead delayed the development of a safer, less harmful treatment for HIV for over ten years. The company paused development on the newer version of the drug, eventually marketed as Descovy, in 2004, and didn’t bring it to market until 2015 — all to maximize the length of time the Big Pharma giant could maintain a monopoly on the treatments and juice profits.

The article points out that fellow Big Pharma giant Merck is currently seeking to employ a similar tactic around its blockbuster cancer treatment Keytruda.

Gilead’s use of this tactic around its HIV treatments is particularly egregious because instead of timing changes, like delivery method, dosage level or pill casing, to a new drug to maximize profits, the company chose to prevent patients from accessing a safer, less harmful treatment option.

This case study in Big Pharma’s greed underscores the urgency for Congress to hold the pharmaceutical industry accountable and crack down on egregious anti-competitive tactics, like product-hopping and patent thicketing. Lawmakers should start by passing the bipartisan Affordable Prescriptions for Patients Act of 2023.

Read the full piece from the New York Times HERE.

Read more about The Affordable Prescriptions for Patients Act of 2023 HERE.

Read more on Merck’s patent strategy to further extend monopoly pricing on Keytruda HERE.

Read more about how Big Pharma’s patent abuse HERE.

Learn more about market-based solutions to hold Big Pharma accountable and lower prescription drug prices HERE.

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