Earlier this year, the Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which operates clinics and pharmacies for AIDS patients, sued Gilead, contending that it delayed the less toxic form of tenofovir to manipulate the patent system and keep prices artificially high. The foundation, which buys tenofovir-based medicines for many of its 600,000 patients worldwide, called Gilead’s moves “a calculated, anticompetitive maneuver” aimed at keeping lower-cost generics off the market. It is asking the court to toss out the patents on the new drug so that other companies can sell it for less.
Clinical trials of the new compound on HIV-positive patients in Los Angeles and several other cities seemed to support their optimism. Patients needed just a fraction of the dose, creating the chance of far fewer dangerous side effects. But in 2004, just as the Foster City biotech firm was preparing for a second and larger round of patient studies, Gilead executives stopped the research.