Gilead Sciences plans to use dating sites, Tumblr, and Snapchat as part of its strategy to market preventative HIV drug Truvada, the company said during a call with investors on Tuesday.
During the call, James Meyers, Gilead’s EVP of worldwide commercial operations, said that awareness of Truvada for pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is high in certain cities like San Francisco but low in others. People at the highest risk of contracting HIV, such as African-American men who have sex with men, often live in “underserved, inner city areas,” Meyers noted.
This is why using platforms like Tumblr and Snapchat may help the company raise awareness about the drug among a population of people who don’t engage with the healthcare system in traditional ways, he added. Cities in which Gilead hopes to promote Truvada include New Orleans, Baltimore, Washington D.C., Oakland, and Newark.
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Officials in San Francisco have attributed some of the success in lowering the HIV rate to the adoption of Truvada as PrEP as part of the city’s broader “test-and-treat” strategy.
“There is an opportunity to replicate this success in other areas across the United States, and Gilead has been encouraged to play a more prominent role in PrEP education and has done so via the hiring of a field-based team,” Kevin Young, Gilead’s COO, told investors.
The second part of the Gilead’s Truvada strategy is to press its case with payers. According to media reports, the drug costs about $1,300 per month, excluding the costs of office visits and lab work.,.
“If we can prevent HIV from occurring, ultimately that’s going to bring down costs of treatment – and that’s a lifetime cost of treatment,,” Meyers explained.
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His comments echo those made by Gilead Sciences CEO John Milligan at the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference last month. There, he said that the drugmaker planned to increase its commercial investment in Truvada as PrEP, in part by building a U.S.-based sales force.
The FDA in 2012 approved Truvada for pre-exposure prophylaxis. About 110,000 patients were taking the daily drug at the end of 2016, Gilead executives said. About 80,000 to 90,000 of those patients live in the U.S.
But the drug — and Gilead itself — have been criticized by some patient-advocacy organizations, like the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. The group has expressed concern that people who choose to take the drug may not use condoms, which could lead to higher rates of other STDs.
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Other organizations and city health departments have launched campaigns to raise awareness about Truvada as a preventative HIV tool. The Los Angeles LGBT Center recently kicked off a campaign designed to raise awareness about Truvada as PrEP. “The bilingual campaign was developed specifically to target those most at risk of HIV infection, which include young gay/bisexual men of color and transgender women,” a spokeswoman said in an email.
Gilead said sales of Truvada, which is also prescribed to patients already diagnosed with HIV, rose about 15% to $2.38 billion in 2016, up from $2.05 billion in 2015.
Gilead’s overall revenue dropped last year, to $7.3 billion from $8.5 billion in 2015. That decline is primarily due to lower sales figures for its blockbuster hepatitis-C franchise, which includes Harvoni and Sovaldi. The HCV portfolio generated $14.8 billion in revenue in 2016, down from $19.1 billion in 2015.