Two HIV/AIDS Patients File Suit Against Abbott Over Price of Norvir
Two HIV/AIDS patients on Monday in the U.S. District Court for Northern California filed a federal antitrust lawsuit against Abbott Laboratories claiming that the pharmaceutical company illegally "jack[ed] up the price" of its antiretroviral drug Norvir by 400%, Reuters reports (Reuters, 4/19). In January, Abbott increased to about $7,800 per year from $1,500 per year the price of Norvir, a protease inhibitor that is part of many HIV/AIDS treatment regimens. Abbott officials said that they had to raise the price of Norvir to fund research into other HIV/AIDS drugs and could not raise the price of the drug in other countries where governments control drug prices. In addition, Abbott officials said that the price increase is intended to recoup losses from patients who are taking smaller than expected doses of Norvir. "To continue the work in HIV and other therapeutic areas, we decided the appropriate thing to do to resource our program was to make up our losses with the price increase," Dr. John Leonard, an Abbott vice president in charge of drug development, said. However, James Love, director of the Consumer Project on Technology, said that because Norvir was developed with the help of a grant from NIH, "it should be cheaper in the United States." Because Norvir was developed using federal funds, the U.S. government could demand "reasonable" prices for the drug, but it has never before taken such a step (California Healthline, 4/14).
According to Joseph Tabacco, a lawyer representing the patients, the lawsuit could be the first Norvir suit seeking class-action status, Reuters reports. In order to establish class-action status, the court must determine that the plaintiffs are "similar enough to represent a class," according to Reuters (Reuters, 4/19). Lawyers representing the patients say that by increasing the price of Norvir -- which adds thousands of dollars a year to the cost of its competitors' regimens that use the drug as a booster -- Abbott is attempting to direct patients and physicians to use a newer single-agent Abbott drug called Kaletra, the San Jose Mercury News reports. Tabacco said, "It is one thing for a pharmaceutical company to make money, but Abbott's unjustified price increase has taken unfair advantage of the very people it should be trying to help" (Krieger, San Jose Mercury News, 4/20). He added, "What makes this particularly outrageous is that Abbott depended on U.S. government grants to develop Norvir. Even without the price hike, the company was on track to generate total sales of more than $3 billion on the drug -- 180 times its original investment" (Berman, DeValerio, Pease, Tabacco, Burt & Pucillo release, 4/19). Abbott spokesperson Jennifer Smother said, "The lawsuit is completely without merit. Abbott will defend against the allegations and continue working to deliver cost-effective medicines for people with HIV." Martin Delaney of the San Francisco-based AIDS advocacy group Project Inform said, "It's become a rallying cry over drug pricing. In the long haul, it creates anti-competitive pressure and continues the process of prices going up and up and up" (San Jose Mercury News, 4/20).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.