February 11, 2004
A group of about 200 doctors who treat HIV/AIDS patients has called for a boycott of Chicago-based Abbott Laboratories after the company's recent price increase for the antiretroviral drug Norvir, Reuters/Los Angeles Times reports (Reuters/Los Angeles Times, 2/11). Attorneys general for Illinois and New York have begun investigations into whether Abbott violated antitrust laws when it increased by 400% the price of Norvir. In December 2003, Abbott increased the wholesale price of Norvir -- which is known generically as ritonavir -- from $54 per month to $265 per month. Norvir is primarily used as a booster for other protease inhibitors, such as Bristol-Myers Squibb's Reyataz and Merck's Crixivan. On Feb. 6, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan (D) announced that her office had opened an investigation into whether the price increase of Norvir was designed to increase the price of antiretroviral drug combinations that use Norvir as a booster and steer patients toward Abbott's newer antiretroviral drug Kaletra. Kaletra, which does not need a booster for other protease inhibitors because it includes Norvir, costs about $18.78 per day, or $563.40 per month, and has a longer patent life (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 2/9). The doctors on Tuesday at the 11th Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in San Francisco agreed that until Abbott reduces the price of Norvir, they will resign from all Abbott advisory boards and lecture faculties, prohibit all Abbott representatives from visiting their offices and not participate in any future Abbott-sponsored clinical trials, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. In addition, the doctors will consider non-Abbott drug treatment alternatives for their patients unless an Abbott drug would be in the patient's best interest. They plan to extend the boycott to other Abbott products and encourage other physicians to join the boycott, the Sun-Times reports.
Dr. Benjamin Young, an HIV/AIDS specialist at Rose Medical Center in Denver who joined the boycott, asked Abbott to rescind the Norvir price increase, saying that a 400% price increase for an approved and "long-used" drug is "unethical" (Knowles, Chicago Sun-Times, 2/11). The French AIDS treatment collective TRT-5 said in a statement, "By artificially giving Kaletra an overwhelming competitive advantage, Abbott is also effectively killing the commercial incentive for its more creative competitors to come up with the safer and more efficacious [protease inhibitors] that so many patients are in desperate need of" (TRT-5 release, 2/10). Abbott has said that the Norvir price increase was "long overdue," according to Reuters. Abbott spokesperson Laureen Cassidy said that Norvir is "still the lowest price[ed]" HIV/AIDS drug in its class (Richwine/Dixon, Reuters, 2/10). Dr. John Leonard, vice president of global pharmaceutical development at Abbott, said that the price increase will allow Abbott to develop new HIV/AIDS treatments, according to the Sun-Times. Leonard added that Abbott has frozen Norvir's price for state AIDS Drug Assistance Programs and makes the drug available at no charge to patients who do not have health insurance (Chicago Sun-Times, 2/11). According to Cassidy, the physicians participating in the boycott represent only a minority of physicians treating HIV/AIDS patients, Reuters reports.
In related news, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation on Tuesday announced that it is filing an antitrust lawsuit against Abbott for the price increase, according to Reuters (Reuters, 2/10). "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. He added, "Abbott's claims of 'research and development costs' and the need to cover development of newer reformulations of the drug ring hollow as 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" (AHF release, 2/10). Cassidy said that the lawsuit is "completely without merit" and "jeopardizes the long-term interests of AIDS patients" (Reuters/Los Angeles Times, 2/11).
Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork.org. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, search the archives, or sign up for email delivery at www.kaisernetwork.org/dailyreports/hiv. The Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, a free service of the Kaiser Family Foundation, by The Advisory Board Company. © 2003 by The Advisory Board Company and Kaiser Family Foundation. All rights reserved.