[Ip-health] Pharmalot: Activists Challenge Abbott Over Its AIDS Drug

Steven Knievel sknievel at citizen.org
Fri Nov 11 10:28:48 PST 2011


Activists Challenge Abbott Over Its AIDS Drug 
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By Ed Silverman // November 10th, 2011 // 9:39 am

Angered by the cost of the Kaletra AIDS med charged by Abbott Laboratories, advocacy groups are undertaking a coordinated global effort today in various countries in hopes of loosening the grip that drugmaker has on its patents. The campaign involves urging governments - and even the drugmaker - to authorize others to offer low-cost generic competition.

In Brazil, for instance, lawyers will file formal challenges to Abbott patent claims, arguing that the company has not met national standards for patentability. Colombian health advocates are pursuing a lawsuit for a compulsory license. In the US, Vietnam and Indonesia, groups will petition their governments to authorize generics. 

The groups maintain that prices charged for Kaletra are blocking expansion of AIDS treatment and drug innovation. Although generic competition has seen global prices for AIDS drugs drop from more than $10,000 a year per person to less than $100, the groups say Abbott charges $400 for its pill in the world's poorest countries and between $1,000 and $4,000 in other developing nations. In the US, Abbott priced one of two components, its Norvil pill, at nearly $8,000 last year.

"Freeing these drugs for competition and co-formulation could save countless lives," says Peter Maybarduk, who runs the Global Access to Medicines Program at Public Citizen, in a statement. "These medicines can be manufactured cheaply where patent barriers can be overcome. Licensing and competition could spur the development of new and improved ritonavir-based combination treatments against HIV/AIDS. If patent holders and the pharmaceutical industry will not negotiate, then health advocates will pursue compulsory measures to break their monopolies on lifesaving medicines." 

The action reflects a long-standing tension between Abbott and advocacy groups over prices for the Kaletra AIDS med or its Norvir, or ritonavir, component. Three years ago, Abbott agreed to settle a lawsuit charging a 400 percent price hike on Norvir some years earlier violated antitrust laws (see this). The move sparked shareholder resolutions, protests at Abbott headquarters, a boycott by hundreds of docs and attorney general investigations.

Four years ago, the drugmaker refused to sell new drugs in Thailand after the government issued compulsory licenses for several medicines, including Kaletra. Applications to market seven new drugs were yanked. The Thai government argued that needed meds were priced too high for most of it citizens and it had the right to override patents under provisions of a World Trade Organization agreement. The drugmaker subsequently relented by allowing a new pediatric version into the country (look here).

The running theme here is that Abbott ceo Miles White may only respond to confrontation, especially given that his actions have won the backing of US officials, which responded to the move by Thailand, for instance, by placing the country on its Special 301 priority watch list for companies that fail to provide an adequate level protection of intellectual property rights (read this). Whether Abbott relents and agrees to licenses for its pill is unclear. We have sought a comment and will update you accordingly.

Steven Knievel
Global Access to Medicines Program
Public Citizen | Protecting Health, Safety and Democracy
TEL: +1 202-588-7771
1600 20th St NW, Washington, DC 20009
URL: http://www.citizen.org/access 

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