Abbott Laboratories was hit with a federal antitrust lawsuit on Monday by patients who charged that the company illegally jacked up the price of a popular AIDS drug. The pharmaceutical company made a decision last December to raise the cost of Norvir, a key component of many antiretroviral drug cocktails, by about 400%. Since then doctors have urged a boycott and the nation's largest AIDS organization sued the company in protest. On Monday two patients filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, seeking damages and an injunction to halt the higher prices.
Abbott spokeswoman Jennifer Smoter said the company has not violated any laws, but couldn't comment on the suit, saying she had not seen it yet. The company previously said the price hike was long overdue, and even with it the medication still would be the cheapest in its class.
Norvir, called ritonavir as a generic, helps suppress HIV in the body. It is unique in that it can boost effectiveness of other HIV protease inhibitors.
The complaint could be the first targeting Norvir to seek class-action status, according to the lawyer representing the patients, Joseph Tabacco. A court must certify that the plaintiffs are similar enough to represent a class.
On Monday morning a group of protesters organized by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation and others launched a 34-hour vigil in front of an Abbott office in South Pasadena, Calif. Demonstrators at the Southern California vigil carried signs that read "Abbott Labs: Getting Fat on AIDS." (Reuters)