Gilead says $250M of counterfeit HIV drugs were sold

Jan. 19, 2022

Gilead Sciences revealed that counterfeit and potentially dangerous HIV medicines have been sold to pharmacies and patients — in sales totaling over $250 million — by a network of shady drug suppliers and distributors. 

A lawsuit filed by the California-based biopharma in July — which was unsealed this week — alleged that distributors sold HIV drugs with false documentation and altered packaging. Many of the counterfeit drugs were purchased from homeless or drug-addicted HIV patients and resold, according to a company spokesperson. Gilead identified 85,247 bottles of counterfeit medication sold in the past two years. 

Gilead identifies counterfeit medications as genuine medications that have faked documentation or altered packaging, as well as fake pills. The company’s two antivirals used in the treatment and prevention of HIV, Biktarvy and Descovy, were the drugs primarily involved in the counterfeiting scandal. In some cases, the bottles contained pills like over-the-counter painkillers or antipsychotic drugs, the company alleged. Intensive investigations and court-approved civil seizures revealed the extent of the criminal enterprise. 

The company first became aware of the problem in August 2020, after a customer in California told his pharmacy the bottle of Biktarvy they had given him contained Tylenol. The pharmacy, White Cross Pharmacy, reported the fake pills to Gilead. White Cross Pharmacy had reportedly purchased the pills from Safe Chain Solutions LLC, a wholesale distributor based in Maryland. Safe Chain, a defendant in the suit, denied the allegations. 

Other defendants in the suit accused of selling counterfeit pills include Scripts Wholesale and ProPharma Distribution. Gilead has executed court permitted seizures at warehouses and offices in 17 locations and nine states, including at Scripts and ProPharma, to confiscate the illegal pills. 

Gilead has asked a judge to award damages to victims and bar defendants from selling medications, regardless of authenticity in addition to trademark violations and possible racketeering conspiracy.