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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

D.C.'s building boom grinds to a halt

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

The decades-long building boom that remade Washington D.C. is screeching to a halt, undone by broader construction trends and the legacy of the post-pandemic workplace.

Why it matters: Dizzying construction has reshaped the city, reinvigorated downtown and created bustling new communities. 

Facebook fights for its image

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Facebook is ditching apologies and taking a more combative stance against its critics as it faces a new barrage of negative coverage and leaked internal reports.

Driving the news: As part of the new posture, Facebook started testing placing positive messages about itself in users' News Feeds last month, according to a New York Times story Tuesday.

3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Charter schools boomed during the pandemic

Expand chart
Data: National Alliance for Public Charter Schools; Map: Sara Wise/Axios

Charter schools picked off hundreds of thousands of public school students across the U.S. during the pandemic, according to a new analysis from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Why it matters: The pandemic has weakened America's public education system, as Zoom classes, teacher fatigue and student disengagement take their toll. And that hobbled system is shedding students to charter schools, private schools and homeschooling.