Aetna, Hartford, Conn., filed an antitrust lawsuit against Abbott Laboratories over its 400% price increase for the AIDS drug Norvir -- to $8.57 per 100-milligram capsule from $1.71 per 100-milligram capsule. According to the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, Abbott raised Norvir's price in December 2003 to offset a drop in the market share of its newer AIDS drug, Kaletra. Patients are "being forced to pay higher prices for Norvir, which is an essential element of their HIV treatment, than would otherwise occur in a fair and competitive market," according to the lawsuit. Aetna, the nation's third-largest insurer, seeks class-action status on behalf of individuals who bought Norvir from Dec. 3, 2003, to the present and is asking that Abbott be barred from monopolizing the market for the drug and assessed unspecified damages.
Abbott has said the price increase was warranted because Norvir was undervalued in the market and remains the cheapest drug in its class despite the increase. Patients and physicians also are angry about the price increase. Under pressure from consumer groups, the National Institutes of Health held a public hearing earlier this week on whether the agency should regulate the price for Norvir because its development was partly financed by NIH grants. -- by Laura B. Benko