AIDS Healthcare Foundation to Sue GlaxoSmithKline Over AIDS Drug Prices
The AIDS Healthcare Foundation, the largest nongovernmental provider of health care services for people with HIV/AIDS in the United States, is expected today to file suit against the U.S. branch of drug maker GlaxoSmithKline, charging that several of GSK's patents for its AIDS drugs are invalid and that the company's prices for the medicines "exorbitantly exceed" its licensing, manufacturing and distribution costs, the Wall Street Journal reports. GlaxoSmithKline is one of the largest manufacturers of HIV/AIDS-related drugs in the world (Naik, Wall Street Journal, 7/1). The company produces the antiretroviral drugs lamivudine (Epivir), zidovudine (Retrovir), abacavir (Ziagen) and amprenavir (Agenerase) (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 6/3). The lawsuit, which is expected to be filed in a U.S. District Court in California, claims that the prices of GSK's AIDS drugs "present a formidable obstacle for proper treatment of the AIDS epidemic in the United States." Epivir, Retrovir and Ziagen were developed with "significant amounts" of federal funding and should be sold "at more reasonable rates," the suit states. The suit also focuses on the patent issues surrounding Retrovir, Epivir and Ziagen -- three drugs often used in combination antiretroviral therapy -- stating that some of the patents on these drugs should be invalidated for their "obviousness." A spokesperson from GSK said that the company believes its patents are "valid" (Wall Street Journal, 7/1). A GSK spokesperson expressed "disappointment" that AHF will pursue a lawsuit against the firm, stating, "GlaxoSmithKline does not believe that litigation is the appropriate pathway to resolve matters such as these" (Reuters, 7/1). AHF said that it plans to seek triple damages totaling $66 million from GSK based on drug purchases by AHF from GSK totaling $22 million over four years.
The suit against GSK marks the "latest onslaught" by AIDS advocates against large pharmaceutical makers over the cost of HIV/AIDS drugs, the Wall Street Journal reports (Wall Street Journal, 7/1). In March, AHF and Rep. Diane Watson (D-Calif.) held a number of media events and ran a newspaper advertisement urging GSK to lower the prices of its antiretroviral drugs for developing nations, and the drug maker later announced that it would sell its medicines at no cost in poor countries (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 3/4). GSK also announced on June 20 that it would freeze wholesale prices for its antiretroviral drugs until January 2004 (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 7/1).