Bipartisan Group of Senators Call for FTC Investigation of Norvir Price Increase
A bipartisan group of senators on Wednesday called for a Federal Trade Commission investigation of Abbott Laboratories' decision to increase by 400% the price of its antiretroviral drug Norvir, Reuters reports (Heavey, Reuters, 5/19). In December 2003, Abbott increased from $54 per month to $265 per month the per-patient wholesale price of Norvir, which is known generically as ritonavir. Norvir is used primarily as a booster for other protease inhibitors, such as Bristol-Myers Squibb's Reyataz and Merck's Crixivan (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 5/13). Senate Commerce Committee Chair John McCain (R-Ariz.) in a statement said it would be "unconscionable if drug manufacturers are taking such unscrupulous actions to maximize their bottom line at the expense of patients suffering with AIDS." Sens. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) also called for an FTC investigation. "Abbott's actions not only put the marketplace at risk, but more importantly, impact the medical options that the sickest people need for a hope of survival," Hollings, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said. Abbott spokesperson Jennifer Smoter said that the "repricing action was entirely lawful" and that FTC had not yet contacted the company (Reuters, 5/19). "It is now clear that outrage over Abbott's actions on Norvir is not just partisan politics by AIDS activists and their supporters but a bipartisan response by respected Washington legislators to clear cut antitrust abuses by Abbott," AIDS Healthcare Foundation President Michael Weinstein said (AHF release, 5/20).
Illinois Class Action Suit
A coalition of 93 consumer and advocacy organizations in 35 states on Thursday announced that it is filing a class action lawsuit against Abbott in Illinois state court, according to a Prescription Access Litigation Project release. The suit, which was brought on behalf of several individuals and the consumer organization Citizen Action/Illinois, alleges that Abbott's price increase violates the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act, a state law that aims to protect consumers from "unfair methods of competition and unfair or deceptive acts or practices," according to the release. "Abbott is exploiting individuals with HIV and AIDS by quadrupling the price of a life-saving drug for which no alternative exists," PAL Director Alex Sugerman-Brozan said, adding, "There must be some limit to what companies can charge gravely ill patients for life-saving medications. Abbott's conduct is no different than charging a person who's drowning $5,000 for a lifejacket" (PAL release, 5/20).
NIH on Tuesday is expected to conduct a public hearing on a request to produce a generic version of Norvir, Reuters reports (Reuters, 5/19). Essential Inventions, a not-for-profit group run by consumer advocates, has said that the drug was developed using federal funding and is now being sold at too high a price. The group has filed a request with HHS for a license to produce a generic version of the drug while it is still under patent. According to Essential Inventions, under the 1980 Bayh-Dole Act, the HHS secretary has the authority to grant licenses to other manufacturers to produce patented medicines that were developed using federal funding, as Norvir was. However, the government has never done so because it fears that any effort to control drug prices could discourage drug companies from collaborating on research with federal agencies (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 5/13).