This press release from Retrovirus follows a public letter dated 2/4/04 to Jeffery Devlin, Marketing Director at Abbott Laboratories, issued jointly by AFC, TPAN, CDPH and CORE Center.
In light of the broad opposition in the HIV/AIDS community to Abbott's decision to increase the price of Norvir, in late January a group of stakeholders from Chicago met with an Abbott representative to voice our opposition to the price increase for Norvir and to strongly urge them to rescind it. During that meeting we also urged Abbott to hold similar discussions with other important stakeholders across the country, especially the AIDS Treatment Activists Coalition (ATAC).
We in Chicago fear the adjusted cost of Norvir will:
Adversely affect access to current and future salvage therapies that require Norvir as a boosting agent;
Adversely affect future pricing negotiations for the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP), which would put treatment further out-of-reach for an increasingly larger group of people;
Influence the pricing patterns of other manufacturers of HIV/AIDS medications;
Contribute to the rising cost of private health insurance that increasingly forces employers to eliminate or reduce benefits and/or pass larger portions of the cost onto employees;
Adversely affect some Medicare beneficiaries with HIV who, despite the recently adopted program expansion, may be unable to afford the high costs associated with receiving the new prescription-drug benefit;
and finally, severely tarnish Abbott's image, domestically and internationally, in the area of social responsibility.
We continue to be unconvinced by Abbott's rationale for the price increase and, in fact, believe the company's posture on the issue has only compounded public outrage. Specifically, the argument that the increase was needed to generate capital for future AIDS-related drug discovery has been met with strong skepticism in the AIDS community.
Responding to some of the issues raised by Chicago and other advocates nationwide, Abbott announced last week plans to permanently make soft-gel Norvir available, to permanently freeze the cost of Norvir for ADAPs (AIDS Drug Assistance Programs) nationwide; to offer free Norvir via the only Patient Assistance Program without income requirement; and to freeze the cost of Norvir at $1.71 per 100 mg tablet for use in clinical development with new chemical entries. While these concessions are laudable, this action does not address the key concern on pricing and appears unlikely to mute mounting criticism.
The negative public response to Abbott's recent decision is overshadowing their distinguished record of accomplishments fighting HIV/AIDS. We recognize and applaud Abbott's leadership role in bringing antiviral agents and diagnostic tools to market, and the company's generous philanthropy to AIDS charities, including our own organizations. Despite this, some of our board members and other supporters have expressed to us their anger and disappointment with our continued association with Abbott. At a time when ADAP waiting lists near 1000 individuals, and scores more face uncertain futures, reaction to Abbott's announcement amplified growing anger about our nation's fractured and unequal healthcare system. Community sentiment toward the pharmaceutical industry is increasingly negative as the industry enjoys record-setting profits, and the cost of prescription drugs skyrockets.
The anger is much broader than the AIDS community as evidenced by the public support for Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich's efforts to import prescription drugs from Canada and the decision of Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan to launch an investigation into Abbott Laboratories' 400% price increase on Norvir.
Madigan's announcement is part of her larger effort to address skyrocketing drug prices. However, she said Abbott's decision to increase the cost of Norvir stands out as an example of unfair pricing that may violate the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act.
In closing, we support Abbott's decision to expand eligibility to its Norvir Patient Assistance Program and other recent concessions on this issue. While the program helps respond to concerns of individuals who may experience a short-term crisis obtaining Norvir, nothing short of a rollback in the price will address the community concerns about the symbolic and systemic impact this will have on future pricing decisions for AIDS-related medications.
Charles E. Clifton