ACT UP members, P talo Alphonso and Brett Thomas, target Gilead Sciences for AIDS Profiteering. Photo: Liz Highleyman
Tuesday, December 18th, the newly reformed AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power of San Francisco (ACT UP/SF) held a dual demonstration and protest targeting Gilead Sciences as AIDS profiteers over their high priced HIV drug, Stribild. Part one of the action was an informational and community outreach demonstration in the Castro . The second leg of the protest was a direct action component on the pharmaceutical giant’s home turf at it’s multi-acre, sprawling state of the art campus in Foster City.
In the Castro, during lunch hour, about twenty ACT UP members rallied holding signs, leafleting, all accusing Gilead of AIDS drug profiteering. They cited the whopping annual cost of $28,500 or $79 p/pill price Gilead’s set for it’s new, one a day, four drug combo treatment, Stribild.
ACT UP/SF’s flyer for Tue. action.
Gilead’s corporate rationale for the high price of ‘Quad’, as it’s users call it, is they’ve spent millions in research and this per pill figure is justified if they’re to recoup costs and turn a profit. However closer inspection of the the four components of Stribild revealed only two of the four, Elvitegravir and Cobicistat, are new drugs. The other two elements are comprised of the same ingredients in other ubiquitous, Gilead HIV drugs, Atripla and Truvada.
ACT UP/SF joins a host of other organizations across the country who’re pointing their fingers squarely at the most profitable HIV/AIDS drug company in the US and chanting, “SHAME!” for using this tired formula to price this new drug.
“Company’s are built to make a profit before all else. It’s a story as old as AZT”, said one activist referring to the cost of the first HIV treatment produced by the drug company Burroughs-Welcome. AZT came on the market in 1987. At the time it cost those living with HIV/AIDS a jaw dropping $10,000 per year despite the fact it was later revealed to only cost pennies to produce. AIDS activists worked tirelessly to expose the price gouging all while the corporate take skyrocketed at the expense of the people.
When Stribild procured FDA approval in August via Phase III, fast track drug trials the price tag had been set even higher at $34,000 per year. The outrage this huge number produced was palatable within the HIV community and reached all the way to Washington DC. Gilead reduced the price after receiving a terse letter from 13 standing members of Congress urging them to rethink their decision. Even with the approximately 15% reduction in price most within the AIDS community-activist, non-profits/AIDS service providers, doctors-have continued to cry, ‘foul’.
ACT UP members Cyd Nova and Kentaro Kaneko sharing a laugh post action on Gilead Science campus.
On Tuesday as one segment of ACT UP picketed in the Castro on the issue the other contingent made it’s way to Gilead’s campus in Foster City. There activists stormed the main building, occupying the lobby and preformed a reworked version of Dicken’s ‘Christmas Carol’ that featured a struggling, poor Bob Cratchet, attempting to secure high cost AIDS medicine from Gilead CEO, John C. Martin, substituted in the role of Scrooge. Using street theatre they creatively demanded Gilead lower their drug prices, provide transparency in developmental costs for all drugs now and coming down the pike and allow generic, cost efficient, versions of their current HIV medicine be produced.
This classic ‘ZAP‘ style, direct action, was captured as a live feed and broadcast via web stream using new activist techniques similar to those employed during the Arab Spring uprisings. This innovation allowed the crowd in the Castro to partake in the other remote action. Foster City police were summoned to the scene by security but no arrest were made. Gilead has issued no comment regarding the ACT UP/SF action on their website as of post time.
“Two ingredients in the new pill Quad-Emtricitabine and Tenofovir-have been used in different combinations since receiving FDA approval in 2004. Gilead must have made back all their initial investments by now. Truvada the is the HIV drug of choice the world over and being used in PrEP treatment.”, stated Alan Guiterrez, ACT UP/SF media liaison for both actions.
Many pharma company’s have discovered that if you recombine drugs already developed in addition to supplementing them with ‘new’ booster elements this meets the qualifications for a new patent thus extending profit margins are already developed products. It’s how they keep control over the market and it keeps generic medicine using the same complex from reaching the market leaving AIDS med prices high.
“Why the high costs? Why strain the already over taxed ADAP system?”, Mr. Guiterrez queried. “New York’s ADAP program is unable to offer the meds to it’s participants due to these over inflated prices. If they did it would bankrupt the states portion of the ADAP system completely.”
ACT UP Poster art targeting Gilead CEO John C. Martin
Gilead is one of the most profitable of all Big Pharma companies. It is ranked 299 in the Fourtune 500 Index and amassed $8.3 billion in profits in 2011 representing a 10% increase over 2010. It’s also listed in the top 20 US Pharma companies and bears the distinction of being the only one on that list not offering any of it’s life extending medicines in generic form. They corner the market on the most often prescribed AIDS treatments Truvada, Emtripla and now-presumably if the target marketing follows this trend-the new Quad will join that list. The Captain of Gilead’s ship, John C. Martin, was awarded $54 million dollar in compensation last year and is one of the highest paid CEO’s in the world. AIDS activist question if his salary and those of other top executives in the firm are a driving factor in the need for higher profit shares on drugs.
Gilead Sciences, according to ACT UP, have extended an invitation to meet with the group to discuss the situation face to face. Details have yet to be worked out, but regardless, until the price of Stribild is dramatically lowered they’ve vowed to continue with their campaign.
ACT UP at the Harvey Milk Plaza. Photo: Liz Highleyman