The high price of HIV/AIDS medication in the U.S. could be the subject of a November 2013 ballot measure set to launch in San Francisco.
The Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation announced Wednesday that it will push an initiative seeking to encourage local, state and national officials to employ all opportunities to bring down the price of prescription drugs. Among the proposed strategies would be to require government officials to negotiate directly with drug manufacturers to pay less for medications that they purchase.
The new push comes on the heels of Monday’s FDA approval of Striblid — previously known as Quad — a combination of four drugs in one pill that will be exclusively manufactured by Foster City-based Gilead Sciences.
The company was a forerunner in developing AIDS drugs, but has angered some activists due to the $21,000 annual cost of its new medication. Foundation officials don’t regard Striblid as significantly more effective than Gilead’s previous standard, Tripla.
“It will be considerably more profitable,” foundation President Michael Weinstein said of Striblid. “They now control all the drugs in it, and in Tripla, only two of the drugs are controlled by Gilead.”
Gilead, which did not return requests for comment Wednesday, currently shares Tripla profits with Johnson & Johnson.
Weinstein said the local outreach is just a starting point for what could turn out to be a long fight over AIDS drug prices.
“An initiative in San Francisco will send a powerful message to Congress, state legislatures and the pharmaceutical industry that they’ve gone too far,” Weinstein said. “They will see that they’ve unleashed a backlash that will beat back these types of price increases.”
Weinstein specifically mentioned the Board of Supervisors as the key body in “using The City’s lobbying power” to lower prices. Supervisor Scott Wiener, who represents the Castro district, said the focus should not be on “demonizing” one company, but finding a way to bring affordable drugs to all sufferers of the virus.
“I do know that the cost for drugs is pretty outrageous,” Wiener said, acknowledging the unique role of companies that undertook relatively new AIDS drug research when the crisis arose. “I’m very supportive of the government being active. … You can have profit motive without gouging consumers.”
San Francisco City Clinic wants to find out how the HIV-prevention drug Truvada works in the real world. So the clinic will be offering the drug to healthy patients who are at risk for the virus.
“We need additional methods for HIV prevention,” said Oliver Bacon, the study’s medical director. “We know from control trials that Truvada is effective in preventing HIV, but we don’t know how it works in real-world settings.”
Patients who enroll in the study will be given the FDA-approved daily HIV-prevention drug for 48 weeks. The drug is made by Gilead Sciences of Foster City.
Clinic Medical Director Stephanie Cohen said the clinic will enroll 300 adult men who have sex with men and transgender women and are at an increased risk for HIV infection. When patients come into the clinic, employees will determine whether they are at risk for HIV and whether they are interested in enrolling in the trial, Cohen said. Referrals will also be provided by Magnet, another local HIV/AIDS clinic.
“It provides us with another significant new option for people beyond just behavioral approaches,” said Dana Van Gorder, executive director of Project Inform. “It is particularly helpful for women and gay men in a sexual situation where making certain that their partner uses a condom is difficult or impossible.”
Cohen said San Francisco is the first U.S. city in which a project of this kind is being launched. The study will be funded by the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases. Several other cities are gearing up to launch similar projects.