Several U.S. senators have asked the Health and Human Services Department to explain what, if any, steps are being taken to ensure that patents held by the federal government on an HIV prevention pill are properly licensed. The lawmakers also asked agency officials to demonstrate how they take into account whether medicines are affordable when considering licensing patents.
The move comes as AIDS activists have criticized the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for failing to reach a deal with Gilead Sciences (GILD) over royalties on its sales of the Truvada pill. The activists complain that a high price has dissuaded people from using the drug and hope any funds that could become available from royalties would be used for combating the virus.
The activists have also argued that because American taxpayers funded some of the basic research, the CDC should force Gilead to take a license and then collect royalties. So far, though, HHS Secretary Alex Azar has acknowledged the cost of the medicine and noted that talks are being held with Gilead about making the pill more widely available. But there has been no indication whether HHS will seek a license.