Pharmacies, Drug Wholesaler File Lawsuit Against Abbott Over Price of Antiretroviral Norvir
Four pharmacy chains and one pharmaceutical wholesaler on Monday filed a lawsuit against Abbott Laboratories over the price of its antiretroviral drug Norvir, the Wall Street Journal reports. 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 its price in 2003 (Carreyrou, Wall Street Journal, 10/30).
Abbott in December 2003 quadrupled 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. 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.
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan (D) has been investigating Norvir's price increase for three years and has said that it might violate the state's consumer fraud law. In addition, two HIV-positive people and the Service Employees International Union's Health and Welfare Fund have filed a lawsuit in U.S. district court in Oakland, Calif. (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 1/3). That trial is scheduled to start in June, according to the Journal. Abbott spokesperson Scott Stoffel recently said the lawsuit filed on Monday is without merit (Wall Street Journal, 10/30).