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Gilead Sciences Inc. (GILD) Putting Brakes on HIV Drug Prices

Gilead Sciences Inc. (GILD) is freezing prices on most AIDS/HIV drugs it sells to government drug-assistance programs, and limiting even patients with private insurance to payments of $50 per month.

In response to AIDS patient advocacy groups, the Foster City, CA developer and manufacturer of some of the best-selling treatments to suppress the AIDS virus said it will suspend price increases on its antiretroviral drugs to government payers through 2010.

The decision came in a letter from Gregg Alton, Gilead’s senior vice president and general counsel, to the AIDS Healthcare Foundation in Los Angeles.

Alton, who is also on the board of the foundation, cited concerns raised by the foundation, the Fair Pricing Coalition and other groups. The foundation in March asked nine drugmakers to freeze their prices due to state budget constraints.

Gilead charges state drug assistance programs $840 a month for its best-selling HIV drug Truvada, a pill that combines Gilead drugs Viread and Emtriva. Separately, Viread costs $552 and Emtriva $329 monthly.

Atripla, a single, once-a-day pill that combines Truvada with Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.’s Sustiva, costs $1,323 per month wholesale. Gilead controls pricing for the Truvada portion of Atripla only.

Truvada already is one of the most affordable HIV drugs, Alton said in his letter, adding that Atripla and Truvada are priced “at parity to the components, rather than positioned at the higher price point allowed” by state programs.

Gilead’s decision to limit co-payments to $50 per month — as well as to cover co-payment costs up to $200 per month — does not affect a large number of HIV patients today, Alton said. But, he added, “we recognize there is a discernible trend in this direction.”

“The financial impact (of the freeze) is expected to be minimal, as we are limited in our ability to take price increases with government payers, particularly so given the economy and inflationary environment,” spokeswoman Amy Flood said in an email response to questions.

President Bush’s proposed fiscal 2009 budget includes $6 million more for AIDS drug assistance programs, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation said, but that is largely offset by an estimated 2.88 percent Consumer Price Index-based price increase for antiretrovirals.

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