Humana, Centene sue pharma companies over alleged scheme to squash HIV drug competition

Humana, Centene and several Blues plans have filed suit against multiple drugmakers, charging that the companies illegally conspired to protect market exclusivity for widely-prescribed HIV drugs.

Pharmaceutical companies named in the suits include Gilead Sciences, Johnson & Johnson's Jansen, Bristol Myers Squibb and generic drugmaker Teva Pharmaceuticals. Gilead dominates the market for antiretroviral drugs, and to maintain that dominance, the companies conspired to delay competition years beyond the window for a generic to enter the market.

Humana said that several of Gilead's HIV medications cost less than $10 to produce, yet health plans have spent the better part of two decades paying thousands of dollars for a 30-day supply. Yearly sales of its HIV therapies exceed $13 billion, Humana said, which led to "enormous profits."

"Gilead’s ability to sustain supracompetitive profits in its multi-billion-dollar HIV treatment franchise has been engineered through a comprehensive, illegal scheme to blockade competition," Humana said in the suit.

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For example, Humana cites Gilead's drug Viread. Patents on the therapy were weak, which led Gilead to team up with Bristol Myers Squibb and Janssen, uniting their drugs and insulating them from generic competition.

"The lawsuits filed against Gilead, along with two other companies, distorts and misstates Gilead’s history, its collaborations with its partners, and its settlement agreements," a Gilead spokesperson said in a statement to Fierce Healthcare. "Gilead believes this lawsuit and its antitrust allegations are without merit. The allegations against Gilead are misguided and do not accurately reflect antitrust laws or Gilead’s history of innovative collaboration and competition in HIV medicines."

Humana also says that Teva, the largest manufacturer of generics in the world, entered into so-called "pay for delay" agreements with Gilead to prevent the introduction of a generic alternative once the patent expired.

These deals are controversial, and Humana has filed suit against other pharmaceutical companies in the past over similar arrangements. In September, it and Centene both challenged Merck over "pay for delay" deals on its cholesterol medications.