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Truvada generated $3 billion of sales in 2018. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The Trump administration's decision to sue Gilead Sciences — the maker of HIV prevention pills known as pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP — pours gasoline on the debate about how patents and prices should work when important drugs are developed by both public institutions and private companies.

Yes, but: "None of this will address drug pricing more generally or the unique circumstances of the HIV drug market," Jen Kates, an HIV policy expert at the Kaiser Family Foundation, said in a thread on Twitter. "And ultimately, the stakes are quite high given that PrEP can save lives."

Where it stands: The Department of Health and Human Services said in the lawsuit that Gilead has "exaggerated its role in developing" the HIV medicines and has willfully infringed patents owned by the federal government, leading to excess profits on the backs of taxpayers. The Washington Post detailed this backstory in March.

  • The government is asking for damages and royalties, which would be used to lower the prices and distribute the drugs to more people.
  • Gilead said in response the government's claims are false and any dispute should be handled through the official patent review board, not the courts.

By the numbers: The two drugs in question, Truvada and Descovy, are significant moneymakers for Gilead.

  • Both drugs have price tags around $1,800 per month, before any discounts. Truvada had $3 billion of sales last year, while Descovy had $1.6 billion of sales.
  • Generic versions of Truvada in other parts of the world cost as little $30 per person per year.
  • Gilead's U.S. patent for Truvada expires in 2021, and the U.S. patent for Descovy expires in 2022, although the company is attempting to extend that to 2025.

The bottom line: This lawsuit faces a long road in court, and pharmacies will soon stock generic versions of Truvada. But these HIV medications remain unaffordable for a lot of people, and the lawsuit is the most direct action the Trump administration has taken to address affordability concerns and monopoly drug pricing.

Go deeper

Prosecutor: Fatal police shooting of Andrew Brown Jr. was "justified"

Khalil Ferebee (C), the son of Andrew Brown Jr., and attorneys Bakari Sellers (L) and Harry Daniel (R) at a May 11 news conference in Elizabeth City, North Carolina. Photo: Sean Rayford/Getty Images

A North Carolina prosecutor said Tuesday that the death of Andrew Brown Jr., a Black man fatally shot by sheriff's deputies last month, was "tragic" but "justified," due to the immediate threat officers believed Brown posed.

Why it matters: The FBI has opened a civil rights investigation into Brown's death. Police in Elizabeth City shot him five times, including in the back of his head, according to an independent autopsy report released by family attorneys last month.

McCarthy comes out against bipartisan deal on Jan. 6 commission

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) will oppose a bipartisan deal announced last week that would form a 9/11-style commission to investigate the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, his office announced Tuesday.

Why it matters: McCarthy's opposition to the deal, which was negotiated by the top Republican and Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee, underscores the internal divisions that continue to plague the GOP in the wake of Jan. 6.

2 hours ago - World

Beijing's antitrust push poses a problem for Western regulators

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The Chinese government's anti-monopoly machinery presents a major challenge to U.S. and European regulators, a new book argues.

Why it matters: China's huge markets are attracting investment from multinational corporations and shaping the behavior of its own globe-trotting companies — giving international heft to the country's idiosyncratic antitrust enforcement and putting it on a collision course with Western-style regulation.