Illinois, New York Attorneys General Launch Investigations Into Abbott’s Price Increase of AIDS Drug
Attorneys general for Illinois and New York have begun investigations into whether Chicago-based Abbott Laboratories violated antitrust laws when it increased by 400% the price of its antiretroviral drug Norvir, the Chicago Tribune reports (Japsen, Chicago Tribune, 2/8). In December, Abbott increased the wholesale price of Norvir -- which is known generically as ritonavir -- from $54 per month to $265 per month. Norvir is primarily used as a booster for other protease inhibitors, such as Bristol-Myers Squibb's Reyataz and Merck's Crixivan (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 1/30). On Friday, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan (D) announced that her office has opened an investigation into whether the price increase of Norvir was designed to make antiretroviral drug combinations that use Norvir as a booster more expensive, steering patients toward Abbott's newer antiretroviral drug Kaletra. Kaletra, which does not need a booster for other protease inhibitors because it includes Norvir, costs about $18.78 per day, or $563.40 per month, and has a longer patent life, the Tribune reports.
"Norvir is not like a hay fever medication that people take to lessen symptoms to be more comfortable," Madigan said, adding, "It is a drug they take to survive. This investigation is aimed at determining the real reason for the price increase and whether it violates Illinois law." Abbott officials said that the company "denies any wrongdoing" and will "vigorously defend its pricing" of Norvir because a price increase for the drug was "long overdue after years of being priced well below rivals," the Tribune reports. "Many companies have known the value of Norvir to their drugs and priced their drugs at a premium despite this," Abbott spokesperson Melissa Brotz said. She added, "Competitors need to price their drugs based on their clinical value. Perhaps those concerned about the cost of therapy should look at the highest cost component of HIV regimens." Abbott officials also said that the company is "committed to ensuring that every patient has unrestricted access to" Norvir and has frozen the price of Norvir for government health insurers, community clinics and drug assistance programs. According to Illinois state prosecutors, about 40% of HIV-positive people who take Norvir are covered by private medical insurance and another 2% to 5% of people pay out of pocket. Madigan said, "Every consumer is affected by unfair or deceptive practices that drive up the cost of drugs." The investigation by New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer (D), which was confirmed by Abbott, also concerns whether the Norvir price increase was made in order to drive market share toward Kaletra. A spokesperson for Spitzer's office would not confirm or deny the investigation. However, officials for Abbott said that they were cooperating with and supplying information to the New York attorney general's antitrust bureau (Chicago Tribune, 2/8).
With its price increase of Norvir, Abbott is "playing by the rules, or lack of them," a Fresno Bee editorial states. To combat the "contemptible" price increase, consumers must "play just as tough in this market as" the drug companies, but that will "require the federal government to be more than a passive player in this game," the Bee contends. The editorial concludes that until President Bush changes his stance from what the drug industry wants, which is "to reduce the role of government in protecting the consumer," consumers will have to "pay up or go without" (Fresno Bee, 2/6).