The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Profit from Patients’ Suffering

Aug 7, 2023

Gilead, a giant drug manufacturer, deliberately delayed introducing a more effective drug to treat HIV in order to increase its profits, as recently reported by the New York Times. Gilead’s internal documents are the evidence.

In 2001, Gilead started to sell a drug, tenofovir disoproxil, which is very effective for the HIV treatment but has many harmful side effects. In 2004, Gilead worked on a much safer variant of this first drug, called tenofovir alafenamide. But Gilead did not immediately start to market this second, much safer drug.

As Gilead admitted in its documents, the reason was to extract billions of dollars of profits first from their first drug, and delay the marketing of the second to stretch their profit extraction. Gilead finally started selling the much safer second drug 11 years later, in 2015. This stretching strategy and the patent protection of these two drugs provide a monopoly to Gilead until 2031.

Gilead’s second HIV drug now has a sticker price of $26,000 annually. It still markets the first HIV drug, which is much less safe, for less than $400 a year. As Gilead admitted, this strategy has brought vast sums of money to the owners and shareholders of this company.

These profits came at the cost of the health of the patients. Many developed chronic kidney failure and bone damage, which could have been easily avoidable if Gilead had introduced the second drug in 2004 instead of 2015.

Scientists working in the U.S. government labs invented, developed, and patented these two HIV drugs funded by taxpayer money. Then, the U.S. government licensed these patents to Gilead for their exclusive use, therefore creating a private company monopoly over their marketing.

Thus, most of the huge sums of money Gilead generated by the sales of these two drugs rested on taxpayer funded government research and development, and on callous patent strategies followed at the expense of patients’ suffering. All drug manufacturers do the same. Gilead is not an exception.