Gilead, producers of anti-HIV drug Truvada, have lost a High Court case in Ireland which may be positive news for men (as well as trans and non-binary people) who sex with men.
Gilead produce one of the most commonly known versions of PrEP under the name Truvada. PrEP or Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis is a drug that when taken daily can greatly reduce the likelihood of contracting HIV. It may reduce the likelihood of contraction by up to 90%. It is not currently available to most people in Ireland forcing many to order it from overseas and there have been cases where the drug has been seized by Irish customs.
Gilead had a patent which, though expired, should extend until 2020 due to a Supplementary Protection Certificate, preventing other drug manufacturers from producing PrEP in Ireland. Gilead launched High Court action against pharmaceutical brands Mylan and Teva to prevent them from selling generic versions of PrEP. It has been announced that this failed meaning that Mylan and Teva should be able to produce generic products at a much cheaper cost than what is currently available from Gilead.
According to the Irish Times “Sources say that the launch of generic versions of Truvada by Mylan and Teva in Ireland is now imminent.”
This is a huge win for groups like Act Up and UCD for PrEP who have been calling for wide availability of PrEP during what appears to be a HIV crisis. The HSE reported that in 2015 alone there were 485 diagnoses of HIV, up from 377 the year before.
The HSE currently pays for a similar drug PEP or Post-Exposure Prophylaxis which helps treat those who have contracted HIV. The same HSE report on HIV in Ireland revealed that HIV diagnoses are on the rise among men who have sex with men (MSM) and that in 2015, 50.9% of those diagnosed with HIV were MSM.
Adam Houlihan, a UCD student, said that “I’d be delighted to see any fast track in making PrEP available in Ireland. Besides the obvious benefits of it being cheaper, the single biggest impediment for people I’ve spoken to, is security of access.” Adam Houlihan was featured in a blog post which you can view here, discussing PrEP. He says that after the blog post many people got in contact with him who were happy to pay “significant enough amounts of money” for PrEP “if it is readily available from a safe and consistent supplier.”
In the UK the NHS has said that it will start giving out PrEP. PrEP trials for alternatives to Truvada are already underway in Ireland.
Houlihan states that while this particular case is a matter for the courts, “it is crucial that the government keep PrEP access high on the public health agenda.”