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Industry Analysts Project Norvir Sales to Double; Insurers Say Norvir Costs Quadrupled Since 400% Price Increase

June 7, 2004

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Pharmaceutical industry analysts project that Abbott Laboratories this year will collect an additional $70 million in sales because of a 400% price increase for its antiretroviral drug Norvir, and the company is expected to "ultimately nearly double the more than $1 billion in sales" that the drug has made since its launch in 1996, the Chicago Tribune reports (Japsen, Chicago Tribune, 6/6). In December 2003, Abbott increased by about 400% the per-patient wholesale price of Norvir, which is known generically as ritonavir. Norvir is used primarily as a booster for other protease inhibitors, such as Bristol-Myers Squibb's Reyataz and Merck's Crixivan (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 5/26). Abbott is expected to generate $2 billion in Norvir sales over the next decade -- nearly doubling the $1 billion it has taken in since the drug was put on the market. Health plan spending since the price increase has "soared," and private insurers "likely" will pass the additional costs on to all consumers who pay premiums, according to the Tribune. For example, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois said its costs for Norvir more than quadrupled from $70,138 in the first quarter of 2003 to $309,248 in the first quarter of 2004. Jeffrey Leiden, president of Abbott's pharmaceutical products group, said that the price increase is justified because the drug's role in treating HIV infection has been undervalued. He added that Norvir still is the least expensive protease inhibitor on the market. However, prosecutors are investigating whether the price increase violates antitrust laws (Chicago Tribune, 6/6). The company also faces lawsuits from AIDS advocacy and consumer groups and is being investigated by the attorneys general of Illinois and Texas. In addition, NIH is considering a request from the consumer group Essential Inventions for a license to produce a generic version of the drug while it is still under patent (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 5/28).

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