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ACT UP Takes On Big Pharma During Rent Live

ACT UP Challenges Pharma Giant for advertising cost prohibitive drug during Rent.

Taking on Big Pharma during an airing of Rent Live, whoever was live tweeting from the ACT UP New York account pulled no punches. Bringing musicals to life as live productions is one of the latest things on broadcast television. The networks have tackled several major productions including Grease, Hairspray, and The Wiz. Few productions have the underlying political and social implications of Rent.

The importance of ACT UP as a frame of reference for the time and activism during the early 1990s is subtly threaded within scenes. However, as I watched and tweeted along with friends, the very real need for ACT UP and the importance of its work came across my timeline very clearly after a pharmaceutical commercial aired during one of the breaks.

Pulling no punches, ACT UP New York’s twitter account let loose a series of tweets calling out the audacity of pharmaceutical giant Gilead Sciences for running a commercial for Truvada. Activists have been demanding Gilead “break the patent”, and permit the creation of an affordable generic alternative. Truvada, more commonly known as PrEp, is extremely effective in combating H.I.V. infection. Yet the cost is a barrier for many.

What’s wrong with advertising an H.I.V. prevention medication during a production about people living and existing with H.I.V. and A.I.D.S.? Well, considering that Rent follows a group of struggling young people who would not be able to afford the medication Gilead is advertising, it is really tone deaf. The retail price of PrEP has increased over the last several years, with a month’s supply costing $2,000. An NBC News article notes the generic Truvada is available in other countries for less than $100 a month. Gilead cares only about its economic bottom line, providing only excuses for its expensive product. According to BreakThePatent.org, Gilead Sciences marks up it’s drug from $6 a month to more than $1,600 per month. Activists have called on the National Institute of Health to Break the patent on Truvada.

Rent is an emotional and beautiful journey of several friends grappling with very real life issues. I have not watched any version since I was much younger. Seeing the storyline unfold and watching the real-life activism and engagement taking place online, I am inspired and disgusted at the same time. As I am writing, the friends have just said goodbye to their friend Angel. Mark and Roger are singing “we’re dying in America, to come into our own.” While the chances of those with H.I.V have improved since RENT was first released, we have a way to go.

Watching Rent, I remembered my mom’s work with the Chicago Women’s AIDS Project in the early 90s. ACT UP seizing on the moment to remind those of us watching along with Rent about the very real history and work still happening was a reminder of why they have been a go-to leader in this space for so long. Thirty-one years and ACT UP is still building and organizing to advocate and demand equity in treatment and availability of life-saving medications like PrEP.

We see this battle over pharmaceutical giants and excessive costs play out in many areas. In the past few years, there have been more than a few stories about the price gouging of life-saving medications like EpiPens. Truvada is the only medication approved of its kind and yet pharmaceutical giant Gilead is currently under no obligation to provide an affordable alternative. Gilead cannot hide behind patients who are able to receive PrEP through insurance or prescription savings programs when so many people do not have the benefit of either. Groups such as ACT UP are not letting Gilead off the hook. Neither should we. We need to put people over profit and BREAK THE PATENT.

Written by Anoa Changa

Mom 1st, Lawyer 2nd. Anoa Changa is Director of Political Advocacy and a Managing Editor of Progressive Army, as well as a member of its Editorial Board. She hosts The Way with Anoa, Wednesdays at 9pm ET on YouTube . Follow her on Twitter @TheWayWithAnoa. "Never tell me the odds." - Han Solo

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ACT UP Challenges Pharma Giant for advertising cost prohibitive drug during Rent.

ACT UP Takes On Big Pharma During Rent Live