Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is demanding to know why the cost of Truvada -- the only drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration for pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to prevent HIV infection -- is so high.
The Democratic congresswoman asked Daniel O'Day, the CEO of Gilead Sciences, why the price is nearly $2,000 per month for the drug in the U.S. when it costs only $8 per month in Australia.
"Truvada still has patent protection in the United States, and in the rest of the world, it is generic," said O'Day, who argued at the Thursday hearing before a House Oversight and Reform Committee meeting that the U.S. government claim on Truvada's patent is invalid.
Ocasio-Cortez contested O'Day's assertion, pointing out that Gilead has garnered $3 billion in revenue from Truvada while the federal government, which issued $50 million in grants to researchers to develop PrEP in Atlanta labs, has not received a dime.
"We the people developed this drug. We paid for this drug," said Ocasio-Cortez at the meeting, which aired on C-SPAN. "Despite the fact that the patent is owned by the public, we refuse to enforce it. There is no reason this should be $2,000 a month. People are dying for no reason."
Elijah E. Cummings, chairman of the committee, also took issue with Truvada's pricing in light of the substantial government investment in the development of the drug.
"This treatment was developed as a result of the investment made by the American taxpayers. The problem is that Gilead, the company that now sells the drug, charges astronomical prices,'' Cummings said at the Thursday meeting, reports The Washington Post.
The advocacy group PrEP4All, which has led the charge on the #BreakThePatent campaign, met with Ocasio-Cortez on the day of the meeting and thanked the Democrat for her work fighting "the gross profiteering of the life-saving drug, PrEP."
Gilead Sciences has agreed to release its patent on Truvada in 2020 to one company, Teva Pharmaceuticals, which will be able to release a generic version of the drug on September 30 of that year. Other generics can be manufactured when the patent officially expires in 2021.
Additionally, the pharmaceutical company will be donating 2.4 million bottles of the HIV prevention drug to 200,000 uninsured individuals each year for 11 years in a new partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. PrEP4All contended this amount is still not enough to turn the tide on the AIDS crisis in the U.S.
Watch Ocasio-Cortez grill O'Day below.