Two of America’s largest pension funds in the nation, based in California, have sent letters expressing concern over Merck and Co. Pharmaceuticals pricing of its key HIV/AIDS drugs, Isentress. It is now the most expensive first-line AIDS treatment in the U.S.
AIDS Health Care Foundation representatives applauded the initiative, having themselves launched a campaign last fall to educate the public about the high price of the needed HIV meds.
One of the largest pension funds in the nation, incorporating public employees and the school system, the letter applauded Merck for their continued work on the HIV virus, but included an admonition that is “only through sustained collaboration that a balance can be struck between treatment and affordability of these life saving drugs.”
One fund, the California State Retirement System, CalSRTS, which sent the letter, carries a $156 billion investment portfolio, and is a long-term owner of Merck & Co. stock, with more than 3.5 million shares currently worth over $100 million dollars. The letter should have some clout.
AHF commended the funds for expressing concern over the price of Isentress and “for encouraging corporate social responsibility from the companies in which they are invested,” said Michael Weinstein, AIDS Healthcare Foundation President. “There is simply no justification for Merck to price Isentress three times higher than other first-line AIDS drugs. The price of this drug is putting an unbearable strain on taxpayer funded State AIDS Drug Assistance Programs (ADAP) in California and all over the country, ultimately limiting access to lifesaving HIV/AIDS treatment to those most in need.”
Initially approved in October 2007 by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a salvage therapy, the FDA recently expanded its approval of Merck’s Isentress for use as a first line course of treatment in HIV/AIDS, a move which both greatly expanded the US market for the drug and made Merck’s antiretroviral (ARV) Isentress the most expensive first line treatment on the market.
AHF has undertaken several actions to urge Merck to lower the price of Isentress including a recent protest during last month’s Conference of Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI) in San Francisco.
The organization has also initiated an innovative advertising campaign which includes vinyl train station banners ads urging, ‘Merck: ‘Do the Right Thing’ hung from light poles on the train platforms in Whitehouse Station, NJ, Merck’s hometown, and parodying their newspaper ads. One of those ads has appeared in this paper and the Washington Agenda.
In addition, AHF has written letters to all state AIDS Drug Assistance Programs (ADAPs) and Medicaid Directors requesting that Isentress be placed on “prior authorization” in order to control costs while still ensuring that those patients who need Isentress have access to it. Placing “prior authorization” procedures on Isentress ensures that the drug remains available to those for whom it is medically necessary.