- Presidential candidate and Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT) on Monday proposed to reward companies developing innovative HIV/AIDS drugs with cash prizes, rather than awarding exclusivity through the current patent system. Under his plan, the drugs would be immediately open to generic competition upon regulator approval.
- Companies developing new medicines would be rewarded through a "Prize Fund for HIV/AIDS Therapies," which would be funded to the tune of $3 billion annually.
- Sanders has repeatedly targeted the pharmaceutical industry for the high price of drugs. With his prize plan, Sanders hopes to end "government-sanctioned monopolies," and better reward medical innovation.
In the mid-to-late 1980's, the HIV/AIDS advocacy group, ACT-UP, made history by staging 'die-ins' to protest the dearth of treatment options for the disease. Available treatment options were often unaffordable for many patients with HIV.
A generation later and medical treatment has improved greatly, but affordability issues continue to persist. There are over 20 different antiretroviral treatments available, which can be combined as physicians work with patients to stay ahead of the ever-mutating virus.
Sanders hopes to expand patient access to lower-cost HIV medicine by changing how drug companies are incentivized. "This plan would break the link between drug development and the rewards for medical research and development. In doing so, we will reward true innovation, eliminate the market incentive for copycat drugs and get all HIV/AIDS treatments to the people who need them at generic prices," Sanders said.
Additionally, Sanders wants to enable the Department of Health and Human Services to negotiate drug prices directly with pharmaceutical companies.
The plan did not specify how the proposed $3 billion in annual cash prizes would be divided among multiple companies. Even at $3 billion, the plan would represent a severe curtailment of the current revenue drug companies earn from HIV treatments. Gilead, for example, brought in over $10 billion in revenue in 2015 from sales of its various HIV franchises. The plan, would however, open the door for generic companies to quickly move in on new drug developments.
According to the latest statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), roughly 1.2 million Americans are HIV-infected, with an especially high burden among African-Americans. Moreover, in 2012, 13,712 people died from AIDS.