Suit Over Jacked-Up HIV Drug Prices Heads to Trial

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – A federal judge ruled that a jury will have to decide whether Abbott Laboratories used predatory pricing to monopolize the market for HIV protease inhibitors that require the use of Norvir, an HIV drug that boosts their anti-viral properties.




     Before researchers uncovered Norvir’s booster properties, which can help HIV patients live longer, Abbott sold the drug as a stand-alone protease inhibitor at $18 for a full dose. Using Norvir as a booster, however, requires only about 1/4 to 1/10 as much as the full dose. In 2003, Norvir’s average price had plummeted to just $1.71 for a daily dose.
     Abbott meanwhile had introduced the stand-alone protease inhibitor Kaletra, which contained the booster ingredient and a second protease inhibitor. Around the same time, Bristol Meyers Squibb and GlaxoSmithKline released their respective competing protease inhibitors, Reyataz and Lexiva. Consumers who bought Reyataz and Lexiva also needed to buy the Norvir booster for the drug to approach, or surpass, Kaletra’s properties. A competing boosted protease inhibitor did not hit the market until Prezista launched in 2006.
     Struggling to boost its market share without removing its product from the market in 2003, Abbott increased Norvir’s price. The prices of Kaletra, Reyataz and Lexiva all rose as well, but Reyataz and Lexiva consumers were hit hardest since they also needed the expensive Norvir booster. GSK and several pharmacies and drug wholesalers responded by suing Abbott in 2007.
     U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken upheld most of the companies’ anti-competitive charges against Abbot in a Jan. 14 ruling.
     “Here, there is sufficient evidence to support an inference that Abbott’s action smacked of intentional wrongdoing,” Wilken wrote. “Internal documents suggest that Abbott intended to injure GSK’s right to co-market Lexiva with Norvir. Further, several documents suggest that Abbott intended to recapture and maintain Kaletra’s market share, at the expense of Lexiva and other boosted PIs.”
     Wilken also ruled plaintiffs offered evidence “that suggests Abbott engaged in this conduct with anticompetitive malice.”
     “Plaintiffs’ experts show that Kaletra sales benefitted from the increase in Norvir’s price,” the ruling states. “Finally, GSK points to damages it suffered based on Abbott’s conduct.”
     A 15-day jury trial is scheduled for Feb. 28.

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