HIV caregivers are planning a nationwide protest over Abbott Laboratories' recent 400% price hike on its protease inhibitor Norvir, a move that has made other protease inhibitors that rely on small doses of Norvir to boost their effectiveness significantly more expensive than Abbott's Kaletra, the Sacramento Bee reports. In a letter sent to Abbott, more than 150 doctors said they plan to resign from Abbott advisory panels, back out of Abbott drug trials, ban company sales representatives from their offices, and avoid prescribing Abbott drugs whenever possible. The HIV Medical Association and the American Academy of HIV Medicine sent a letter to Abbott calling the price increase "contemptible." San Francisco's Community Consortium of HIV caregivers last week voted to refuse any financial or in-kind support from Abbott because of the price increase.
AIDS activists suggest that the company boosted the price of Norvir from $2.14 to $10.71 for a 100-milligram pill to unfairly inflate the costs of drug regimens containing other protease inhibitors that rely on Norvir as a booster. However, the price of Abbott's protease drug, Kaletra, which contains a small dose of Norvir in the same pill, remained unchanged, making it much less expensive than any other protease inhibitor-Norvir combination. Company officials say the price increase was made to better reflect Norvir's value in HIV treatment and to generate funding for Abbott to study and develop other medications, including anti-HIV drugs. And although Abbott officials say the price hike will not affect state-run AIDS Drug Assistance Programs because the price of the medication has been frozen for the programs, the price freeze ends in 2005, at which time the new, higher price may be charged to the already struggling drug programs.
Essential Inventions, Inc., a nonprofit organization, in January filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission to investigate whether the price hike on Norvir is an attempt to unfairly drive the market share to Kaletra. The group alleges that the price increase violates anticompetition laws by making Kaletra the only affordable HIV treatment for many patients. Essential Inventions also asked Health and Human Services secretary Tommy Thompson to override Abbott's patent on Norvir so that cheaper, generic versions of the medication can be manufactured. Thompson has yet to respond to the request.