Pharmaceutical giant Gilead Sciences is being sued for “intentionally withholding” a safer HIV treatment drug, reported PinkNews.

The company has Tenofovir Disoproxil Fumarate (TDF), an antiretroviral drug sold as part of the routine medications taken by people affected by HIV, patented. However, the lawsuit, filed in the U.S. Supreme Court on Saturday (November 17), claims the company is withholding a safer version of TDF – with fewer side-effects– with the goal of exploiting patent laws.

This safer version of the drug, called Tenofovir Alafenamide Fumarate (TAF). is planned to be released once the patent on TDF expires in 2021, alleges the suit. Patent expiration would allow other companies to produce cheaper generic versions of the drug, but by rolling out TAF on the date of expiration, Gilead would still be able to charge premium rates.

According to the lawsuit, which was filed by Morgan & Morgan, Ben Crump Law, and Hilliard Martinez Gonzales, the company is “intentionally withholding [TAF]… from hundreds of thousands of patients in order to extend the profitability of the patent.”

“We believe the evidence will show that Gilead withheld the equally effective but safer medication for one primary reason – billions in profits,” said attorney Bob Hilliard.

The suit alleges Gilead has “unjustly affected the black minority, and LGBT communities.” More than 70 percent of all new HIV diagnoses in 2017 were in gay and bisexual men or transgender women, with black and Latino communities being disproportionately affected.

“Gilead’s chosen path of inaction is causing tremendous harm to persons with HIV, particularly black and LGBT minorities, by keeping drugs that would reduce deadly symptoms off the market and unavailable to those who need them the most,” said Ben Crump, a civil rights attorney behind the suit. “The lawsuit is a major step in the right direction toward racial equity in communities unevenly affected by HIV and exploited by pharmaceutical goliaths like Gilead.”

Hilliard added, “Our lawsuit seeks recovery for those hurt by Gilead’s greed, and to hold Gilead accountable for choosing profits over people.”

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