|WASHINGTON, December 9 – Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt) and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) are demanding that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) deny a patent extension requested by Gilead Sciences for a lifesaving HIV medicine, worth tens of billions of dollars, due to the pharmaceutical giant’s “deceitful and immoral” behavior. The lawmakers urge the government to instead allow the drug Descovy—used to both treat and prevent HIV—to be manufactured generically.
Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez are acting on explosive allegations that Gilead delayed the market entry of Descovy in order to continue profiting off a separate drug, Truvada, which Gilead knew to be less safe, until that drug’s patent term had been exhausted. “In the process of applying for patent extension” for the intentionally delayed drug, note Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez, “Gilead withheld information on its true motives” for halting Descovy’s development.
“Gilead has made an obscene $36 billion off of Truvada since 2004, even though thousands of Americans could have been spared injury and even death” had Descovy been used instead, wrote Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez in the December 6 letter to the USPTO. “Corporate misconduct must not be rewarded by the U.S. government through extending a government-granted monopoly on this medicine.”
The members of Congress observe that “the United States is dealing with a massive public health crisis. Thousands of people are unnecessarily dying from a preventable disease,” as these drugs have been shown to be 99-percent effective at curbing the transmission of HIV, holding the promise of eradicating HIV/AIDS if widely and promptly adopted.
Descovy, “if manufactured generically,” Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez maintain, “could quickly and affordably reach hundreds of thousands of Americans.” If the government extends Gilead’s patent, however, the corporation could use this monopoly to charge several thousand times more for the same compound, putting it out of reach for untold numbers of Americans desperate for affordable HIV treatment and prevention.
“We call on the USPTO to deny Gilead’s patent extension request and offer urgent relief to countless Americans confronting HIV who were denied this medicine for nearly a decade due to the greed of Gilead,” conclude Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez. Should the USPTO disregard the lawmakers’ appeal and award Gilead with this lucrative monopoly, the federal agency would set a “very dangerous precedent for other wealthy and powerful corporations that will look to be rewarded for deception and misconduct,” the members of Congress warn.
Sanders’ and Ocasio-Cortez’s bicameral effort emerged out of months of engagement with PrEP4All Collaboration, a group of grassroots activists demanding universal access to these HIV drugs, medicine that was developed with significant taxpayer investment in research.
Sanders is the author of sweeping legislation to slash the price of prescription drugs, introduced earlier this year, including the Affordable and Safe Prescription Drug Importation Act, the Medicare Drug Price Negotiation Act, and the Prescription Drug Price Relief Act of 2019, which would break patents on expensive drugs and authorize cheap generics if pharmaceutical companies refuse to lower their prices to the median price found in other rich countries.
Read the letter here.