The Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation announced Tuesday that it has filed a federal antitrust lawsuit against Abbott Laboratories for raising the price of its HIV protease inhibitor Norvir by 400%. Critics of the price hike say Abbott is unfairly trying to raise the price of other antiretroviral drug therapies, which commonly use small doses of Norvir to boost the effectiveness of other protease inhibitors, and drive cost-conscious HIV patients to Abbott's protease inhibitor Kaletra. Kaletra, which was not increased in price, already contains a small amount of Norvir in the same pill to boost the medication's efficacy. The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages and a court order setting the price of Norvir within "reasonable financial reach of the HIV-infected public.
"Abbott's 400% increase for Norvir, from a cost of roughly $50 per month to nearly $250 per month, is purely and simply a move to wield its patent and monopoly power in the AIDS drug market and increase Abbott's own profits on this key AIDS drug," AHF president Michael Weinstein said. "Norvir...was developed with the help of substantial government underwriting and grants, a taxpayer investment which will now sadly benefit the corporate coffers of Abbott at the expense--literally--of the lives of millions of people living with HIV/AIDS."
Abbott officials say the price of the drug was increased to both better reflect its expanding role in antiretroviral therapy and to generate income for the company to conduct research and development on additional drugs, including new HIV treatments. Company spokeswoman Laureen Cassidy dismissed the AHF lawsuit as "completely without merit" and said it "jeopardizes the long-term interests of AIDS patients."
More than 200 HIV specialists have announced a boycott of Abbott drugs over the Norvir price hike, including banning company sales representatives from their offices and pulling out of clinical trials of medications developed by Abbott. In addition, the attorneys general from New York and Illinois are investigating whether the company is wrongly attempting to drive HIV-positive consumers to purchase Kaletra by making other antiretroviral drug combinations unaffordable.