Not-for-Profit Company Requests Federal Trade Commission Investigation Into Abbott’s Price Increase of AIDS Drug
Not-for-profit company Essential Innovations on Thursday filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission calling for an investigation into whether pharmaceutical company Abbott Laboratories raised the price of its antiretroviral drug Norvir in order to drive market share toward Kaletra, another of the company's antiretroviral drugs, Reuters reports (Richwine, Reuters, 1/29). Abbott last month increased the wholesale price of Norvir -- which is known generically as ritonavir -- from $54 per month to $265 per month (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 12/19/03). Norvir is primarily used as a booster for other protease inhibitors, such as Bristol-Myers Squibb's Reyataz and Merck's Crixivan. Kaletra is a combination drug that includes Norvir and another protease inhibitor. The price increase made two-drug antiretroviral combinations including Norvir cost between $12,254 and $16,933 annually, compared with $8,599 a year for Kaletra, according to the complaint. The complaint alleges that the Norvir price increase is "anti-competitive" because it will make the Norvir combinations more expensive, thereby shifting prescriptions toward Kaletra. "A main effect of the price increase will be to raise the price of competing products to shift market share to its combination product Kaletra," James Love, a consumer advocate who this month founded Essential Innovations, wrote in the complaint. Abbott spokesperson Ann Fahey-Widman said, "That's simply not the case. This action is specific to Norvir. It does not affect Kaletra," adding, "This pricing action supports our ability to continue research and development" (Reuters, 1/29).
Essential Innovations on Thursday also was expected to ask HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson to override Abbott's patent on Norvir and grant licenses for generic production of the drug. The company said that Thompson, under the 1980 Bayh-Dole Act, can provide licenses to other pharmaceutical companies "when needed for public health or because the patent holder has failed to make the product available on reasonable terms," according to Reuters. Essential Innovations was expected to file a complaint claiming that Abbott set "abusive prices on government-funded medicines," according to a statement posted on the Web site of the Consumer Project on Technology. Fahey-Widman said the petition was "completely without merit and contains gross misinformation." She added that the company is allowing public assistance programs to purchase the drug at the old price and that patients lacking public or private insurance can obtain the drug at no cost. In addition, the only government funding the company received in relation to its development of Norvir was a $3 million grant in 1988 for "very early discovery work" into the company's entire HIV program, Fahey-Widman said. Even if all of the funding went toward the development of Norvir, the $3 million would represent less than 1% of total spending by Abbott and the government on the drug's development, she said. Representatives for Thompson were not immediately available for comment, according to Reuters (Richwine, Reuters, 1/29).