Abbott Increases Price of Norvir 400%; Increase Causes ‘Furor’ Among AIDS AdvocatesAbbott Laboratories has raised by 400% the U.S. wholesale price of its protease inhibitor Norvir, a move that has caused "furor" among AIDS advocates, the Wall Street Journal reports. The company earlier this month told doctors, AIDS advocates and pharmacies that it was increasing the wholesale price of Norvir -- which is known generically as ritonavir -- from $54 per month to $265 per month in order to "better reflect the drug's importance in treating AIDS" and recoup research and development costs that the company incurred when improving the drug, according to the Journal. Norvir is commonly used in small doses to "boost" the effectiveness of some antiretroviral drug combinations, the Journal reports. Therefore, the price increase would "sharply" raise the price of several combination drug regimens, which normally cost between $800 and $1,300 a month, according to the Journal.
Critics say that the move is intended to push doctors away from prescribing Norvir as a booster to drug regimens and switch patients to the company's newer antiretroviral drug, Kaletra. Kaletra is a combination drug that contains Norvir and another protease inhibitor, which is known generically as lopinavir. Norvir is commonly used to boost the performance of other protease inhibitors, such as Bristol-Myers Squibb's Reyataz or GlaxoSmithKline's Lexiva, both Kaletra competitors. The price increase would cause the cost of a combination regimen including Norvir and Reyataz or Lexiva, which cost $684 and $480 a month wholesale, respectively, to become "far costlier" than a regimen involving the two-drug Kaletra, which costs $580 a month wholesale, according to the Journal. AIDS specialists say the increase could cause insurers to encourage patients to use Kaletra by requiring doctors to obtain special permission to use the more expensive combination regimens including Norvir, or charge higher copayments for patients taking the more expensive regimens. The price increase will not affect government programs such as Medicaid, community clinics or AIDS Drug Assistance Programs, which collectively account for the majority of Norvir prescriptions written in the United States. Abbott denies that the price increase is designed to encourage patients to switch to Kaletra, saying that the increase reflects "a long-overdue adjustment after years of being priced below other protease inhibitors," according to the Journal (Fuhrmans, Wall Street Journal, 12/19).
Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, said that Kaletra is still priced the same, adding, "This is purely a marketing ploy to push for a larger market share for Kaletra by driving providers and patients to this cheaper Abbott combination therapy and the HIV community as a whole should unite and speak out against Abbott's bald-faced greed" (AHF release, 12/16). Critics of the price increase also say Abbott's claims that the increase reflects a need to recoup research and development costs are false because the drug has been on the market for seven years and has "enjoyed a relatively long product life compared with most AIDS drugs," according to the Journal (Wall Street Journal, 12/19). The HIV Medicine Association on Thursday sent a letter to Abbott urging the company to reconsider the price increase, saying, "[W]e are alarmed by your decision to raise the cost of protease inhibitor regimens to the point where many people who need these life-saving drug combinations will struggle to pay for them or won't have access to them at all" (HIVMA release, 12/18). Abbott acknowledges that its decision to raise Norvir's price "has set off a storm of protest," according to the Journal. "It's a decision that we did not take lightly, which is why we reached out to (AIDS groups) so proactively," Abbott spokesperson Melissa Brotz said. However, Bill Arnold, chair of the ADAP Working Group, which helps advocate for more ADAP funding, said that "people will be livid about that no matter what" (Wall Street Journal, 12/19).