BioPharma, Legal

Misleading HIV drug lawsuit ads still appear on Facebook despite effort to remove them

The social media company last month began taking down ads for lawsuits over Gilead’s Truvada after complaints from LGBT and HIV organizations. However, several such ads have continued appearing on the platform, including one updated Monday that linked the drug to injuries.

More than a month after the company started taking them down, misleading ads for lawsuits over alleged injuries from drugs used to prevent and treat HIV are still appearing on Facebook.

During the weekend and early this week, ads from personal injury lawyers appeared on the social media platform for suits alleging skeletal and kidney injuries from drugs made by Foster City, California-based Gilead Sciences, particularly Truvada (tenofovir, emtricitabine). Truvada is commonly used for pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, to prevent HIV in individuals considered to be at high risk of contracting it.

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A Deep-dive Into Specialty Pharma

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Facebook did not respond to requests for comment by the time of publication.

Last month, Facebook began quietly removing ads for the lawsuits following complaints from LGBT organizations, health experts and others, after it had initially declined to do so. An analysis last year found that the ads were misleading because they lacked context, suggesting that the risk of kidney damage and loss of bone density was the same for those taking Truvada for PrEP as it was for patients taking the drug treat existing HIV infection.

Most of the ads appear to link to pages that have remained online from last year, as opposed to new ones. However, some of the pages have been updated much more recently. For example, a search revealed a Truvada injury lawsuit page that was updated on Monday to display a cover photo explicitly linking Truvada for PrEP with injuries.

Dozens of LGBT and HIV advocacy groups signed on to a Dec. 9 open letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg asking him to remove the ads from Facebook and Instagram, as they risked scaring HIV-negative people away from using Truvada to prevent infection.

Truvada has been known to cause renal impairment and loss of bone density in some patients, as stated in the drug’s package insert. But its benefits are widely regarded as outweighing its risks. Gilead won Food and Drug Administration approval in October for the use of another of its drugs as a PrEP medication, Descovy (tenofovir alafenamide, emtricitabine), thanks to its lower incidence of kidney and bone problems. But some experts have said they would continue to give patients Truvada because the older drug is overall well-tolerated. Truvada is also expected to lose patent protection and become available as a generic later this year.

Photo: MarcBruxelle, Getty Images