In a move that shocked HIV-positive people, caregivers, and advocates, Abbott Laboratories boosted the wholesale price of its protease inhibitor Norvir (ritonavir) in December by more than 400%, from about $54 for a month's supply to $265. Because Norvir is commonly used in highly active antiretroviral therapy to boost the efficacy of other protease inhibitors, the costs of anti-HIV drug cocktails could soar, AIDS experts predict. Even experimental drugs intended to be dosed with Norvir, such as tipranavir, Boehringer Ingelheim's promising nonpeptidic protease inhibitor that is in final human trials, could be severely affected by the price increase.
Abbott spokeswoman Laureen Cassidy says the increased price will help pay for the development of new anti-HIV drugs and refinements to existing medications at the company, including a second-generation version of Norvir that does not require refrigeration. And although she stresses that the price charged to state-run AIDS Drug Assistance Programs is frozen at the cheaper rate until March 2005 and that the company will expand its charitable program providing free Norvir to low-income HIV-positive people, HIV caregivers and activists remain incensed.
'We view this as very unethical,' Rob Killian, a Seattle physician who signed a letter of protest sent to Abbott, told the ,i>Seattle Times. 'Not in my 15-year history [in medicine] have I seen anything like this'for a drug out for years to increase in price this much.' Leaders at the HIV Medicine Association say they worry that if the higher price were applied to public drug programs in the future, it could bankrupt state ADAP and Medicaid programs.
Others, including the Los Angeles'based AIDS Healthcare Foundation, openly called the price increase an overt attempt to boost sales of another Abbott protease inhibitor, Kaletra. Abbott denies the allegation. The price of Kaletra, which contains a small dose of Norvir in the same pill, is not being increased, which could make it a more affordable option as the prices of other Norvir-boosted protease inhibitor combinations skyrocket. 'The HIV community as a whole should unite and speak out against Abbott's bald-faced greed,' AHF president Michael Weinstein said in a press release.
That is exactly what doctors in the United States and the United Kingdom are attempting to do with an across-the-board boycott of all Abbott products, AIDSmap.com reports. 'Physicians are looking at ways we can bring our discontent home to Abbott,' says Graeme Moyle of London's Chelsea and Westminster Hospital.