Illinois attorney general Lisa Madigan on Friday announced that her office has launched an investigation into Abbott Laboratories' decision in December to raise the price of its HIV protease inhibitor by 400%. Abbott officials over the weekend also confirmed that they are working with New York attorney general Eliot Spitzer, who also is investigating the price increase.
Norvir is commonly used in tandem with other protease inhibitors to boost their effectiveness. Madigan says in a press release that the price increase may violate the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act. Because the price of Abbott's other protease inhibitor, Kaletra--which contains a small booster dose of Norvir in the same pill--was not changed, the price hike may have been meant to drive the price of other protease inhibitor-Norvir combinations so high that consumers would be forced to buy the cheaper Kaletra, according to Madigan.
"Norvir is not like a hay fever medication that people take to lessen symptoms and be more comfortable. It is a drug they take to survive," Madigan said in the press release. "Increasing its price is like increasing prices for lifesaving cancer drugs or heart drugs. This investigation is aimed at determining the real reason for the price increase and assessing whether the increase violates Illinois law. Every consumer is affected by unfair or deceptive practices that drive up the costs of needed prescription drugs."
HIV caregivers are planning a nationwide protest over the price hike on Norvir, The Sacramento Bee has reported. 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 price increase also has been criticized by the American Academy of HIV Medicine, the San Francisco Community Consortium of HIV caregivers, and the nonprofit organization Essential Inventions, which has filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.
Abbott officials say the price increase was made to better reflect the role of Norvir in highly active antiretroviral therapy and to bring in funds to be use for the development of other new medications, including new anti-HIV treatments.