The Food and Drug Administration’s approval of Stribild, a once-daily combination pill to treat HIV, was welcome news last week. But the revelation that it will cost a whopping $28,500 a year has prompted AIDS activists to fight for ways to reduce the cost of the medication and other pricy “essential medicines.”
Stribild is a combination of four drugs, emtricitabine and tenofovir disoproxil fumarate, which are the active ingredients in the already approved HIV treatment Truvada, plus new drugs elvitegravir and cobicistat. Elvitegravir works by interfering with one of the enzymes HIV relies on to multiply. Cobicistat helps to lengthen the effect of elvitegravir. Stribild is manufactured by Gilead Sciences.
Eighty-eight to 90 percent of patients who were given Stribild had an undetectable level of HIV virus in their blood after 48 weeks, compared to 87 percent in patients taking Atripla, another HIV treatment. More than a million Americans are infected with HIV. Unless treated with antiviral medications, patients with HIV will develop AIDS, a disease that weakens the immune system and can lead to infections that will ultimately cause death.
The introduction of Stribild gives hope to many people with HIV, but the price tag may make the drug inaccessible to some patients. Thus, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation is working to place a referendum in front of San Francisco voters to require city officials to hold talks with drugmakers about pricing for essential drugs like Stribild.
Statewide programs, known as AIDS Drug Assistance Programs, help provide medications to people who are of limited means, but the programs are under financial strain due to the recession. Thousands of patients remain on waiting lists for acceptance into the programs. As a result, 14 Democratic members of Congress earlier this month wrote a warning letter to Gilead about Stribild pricing.
Whether the referendum will make the ballot remains to be seen, reports Forbes. “And even then, the initiative is not guaranteed to achieve the intended outcome. Talks may be held and subsequent public pressure may make Gilead executives uncomfortable, but again, it is unclear if pricing will actually be affected. Then again, the approach is, indeed, one way of raising public awareness.”