A bipartisan group of U.S. senators on Wednesday called for the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the recent 400% price increase on Abbott Laboratories' HIV protease inhibitor Norvir, a drug commonly used to boost the effects of other anti-HIV medications. Abbott in December boosted the wholesale price of Norvir from $54 per month to $265 per month. AIDS activists have charged that the price increase is meant to force patients who take Norvir to boost other protease inhibitor drugs to switch to Abbott's drug Kaletra, which already contains a small dose of Norvir but was not increased in cost.
Senate Commerce Committee chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.), who led the call for the FTC investigation along with senators Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), said it would be "unconscionable if drug manufacturers are taking such unscrupulous actions to maximize their bottom lines at the expense of patients suffering with AIDS." Hollings said the price hike on Norvir "not only puts the marketplace at risk, but more importantly impacts the medication options that the sickest people need for a hope of survival." Abbott spokeswoman Jennifer Smoter says the price increase was legal and that the FTC hasn't notified the company that it is being investigated.
In related news, a coalition of 93 consumer and advocacy groups in 35 states on Thursday filed a class action lawsuit against Abbott in Illinois state court, alleging that the price increase on Norvir violates the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act, which governs the operations of businesses based in Illinois. The lawsuit claims the price increase breaches the law's prohibitions on unfair methods of competition and unfair or deceptive acts or practices. "Abbott is exploiting individuals with HIV and AIDS by quadrupling the price of a life-saving drug for which no alternative exists," said Alex Sugerman-Brozan, executive director of the Prescription Access Litigation Project, one of the groups that filed the lawsuit. "Abbott's conduct is no different than charging a person who's drowning $5,000 for a life jacket."
The National Institutes of Health will hold a public hearing on Tuesday on a request by nonprofit organization Essential Inventions for a license to produce a generic version of Norvir. The organization has claimed Norvir's price hike violates provisions of the 1980 Bayh-Dole Act, which allows the Department of Health and Human Services to grant licenses to produce cheaper versions of patented medications that were developed wholly or partially with federal funding.
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