Processing Magazine

Abbott faces more litigation over AIDS drug

August 4, 2008

When Abbott Laboratories Inc. hiked up the price of a popular AIDS drug by 400 percent in 2003, executives prepared for the inevitable public relations hit, according to the Associated Press. But five years later, Abbott continues to fight. The North Chicago, Illinois drug company stands to lose hundreds of millions of dollars in several pending antitrust lawsuits. It settled only its first -- and likely its cheapest one -- last week. The lawsuits, all filed in Oakland federal court, accuse Abbott of raising the price of the HIV-fighting Norvir to illegally stifle competition and boost sales of its own alternative, Kaletra. Embarrassing internal communications between executives plotting how to thwart their rivals in the lucrative HIV drug cocktail market have been made public in the process. Executives acknowledged in 2003 internal memos that Abbott would appear as the "big, bad, greedy pharmaceutical company" if they implemented the Norvir price hike, according to court documents. But the bruising to the company''s public image then led to legal woes, with a barrage of lawsuits filed by patients, drug wholesalers and one competitor. Last week, Abbott agreed to pay between $10 million and $27.5 million to charities to settle one of the smaller lawsuits filed in 2004 by aggrieved HIV patients. The payout depends on how the company fares before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which will be asked to settle several contentious antitrust questions raised in the case. The payout in that lawsuit is expected to be small compared to potential settlements or losses in other cases because the amount was limited by federal law, which blocks "indirect" buyers -- such as patients who purchase the drug through pharmacies -- from collecting damages in antitrust litigation. Abbott doesn''t enjoy that same legal protection in the remaining lawsuits, filed by pharmacies, drug wholesalers and competitor GlaxoSmithKline PLC, who can argue to triple any antitrust awards they win. Those cases are still pending before Oakland-based U.S. District Court Judge Claudia Wilken, who so far has generally ruled against Abbott.