U.S. News

Glaxo Joins Lawsuit Against Abbott Over Price of Norvir

November 12, 2007

GlaxoSmithKline recently joined a lawsuit against Abbott Laboratories over the price of Abbott's antiretroviral drug Norvir, the Wall Street Journal reports. In the suit filed in U.S. District Court in Oakland, Calif., GSK alleges that Abbott "schemed to remove ... one of the critical components" of an antiretroviral drug combination in 2003 by increasing the price of Norvir, which has been used in combination with GSK's antiretroviral Lexiva (Carreyrou, Wall Street Journal, 11/9).

Four pharmacy chains and one pharmaceutical wholesaler in October also filed a lawsuit against Abbott over the price of Norvir. In the suit, the companies -- Safeway, Walgreen, Kroger, Supervalu's New Albertson's and American Sales -- allege that Abbott "unlawfully extended its monopoly position as the sole provider of Norvir" by increasing the drug's price.

Abbott in December 2003 quadrupled the per-patient wholesale price of Norvir, which is known generically as ritonavir. Norvir primarily is used as a booster for other protease inhibitors. Abbott exempted Medicaid, Medicare and state AIDS Drug Assistance Programs from the price increase and announced it would expand its patient assistance program. The cost of Norvir increased from $51.30 for 30 100-milligram capsules to $257.10 for 30 100-mg capsules, or by $5,000 more annually.

Previously undisclosed documents and e-mails reviewed by the Journal indicate that executives at Abbott attempted to diminish the attraction of Norvir by increasing the price of the drug. According to the documents and e-mails, Abbott in the fall of 2003 became concerned about new competition to its antiretroviral Kaletra, and the company's executives began discussing ways to decrease the popularity of Norvir as a way to force HIV-positive people to stop using rival drugs and turn to Kaletra.

Abbott has said that it did not increase the price of Norvir to promote Kaletra and that the increase did not affect other drug companies. According to Abbott, the price increase was intended to better show Norvir's medical value (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 10/30). Melissa Brotz, a spokesperson for Abbott, called GSK's suit "frivolous" and "completely without merit" (Wall Street Journal, 11/9).

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