US: Gilead is accused of cutting anti-competitive deals to extend profit on HIV drug combinations

Combination drug “cocktails” to treat HIV infection are an important part of patients’ routine, allowing them to reduce the number of pills they must take each day. But the lifesaving tablets also were the focus of anti-competitive schemes by the nation’s leading HIV drug manufacturer, Gilead Sciences, according to a consumer lawsuit filed Tuesday.

Gilead forged deals that blocked generic competition, even after Gilead’s brand patents on key medications in the combination pills expired, according to the civil antitrust lawsuit brought in U.S. District Court in San Francisco by HIV/AIDS activists and two service unions.

Combination pills are created using medicines from multiple manufacturers. Gilead’s agreements with those partner companies required that Gilead-brand versions of the HIV-fighting medication tenofovir, which prevents the virus from replicating, would remain in the pills, the lawsuit alleged, even when generic ingredients could be used at a fraction of the price.

In other words, Gilead got its most likely competitors to promise not to compete, according to the suit. “This looks like a new type of agreement that we haven’t seen before, that sure looks like a per-se illegal effort to extend the life of the patent,’’ said Mark A. Lemley, a Stanford Law School professor and a lead attorney in the litigation. “And they’re doing so in a market where there really is a public health crisis.’’

As a result of the deals, according to the lawsuit, individual consumers and health plans paid far too much for the drug combinations. Prices for brand-name combination HIV treatments start at $30,000 a year. Read more via Washington Post