AIDS Protestors Denounce Huge Drug Cost Hike; Protest Chicago's Abbott Labs

Sat. April 24, 2004 12:00 AM by

Chicago, Illinois - Dozens of AIDS activists, patients, and health care workers demonstrated Friday at the annual meeting of Abbott Labs against what they called price gouging by the giant pharmaceutical company.

This year Abbott raised the price of Norvir 400 percent. The protease inhibitor now cost patients $265 a month, up from the original price of $54 a year ago. Abbott blames lower than expected sales in for the increase. AIDS activists say the price hike was the result of corporate greed.

"I think Abbott was hoping the AIDS community had grown soft and fat," said Jim Pickett a 38 year old Chicago AIDS patient and activist. He said he wanted shareholders to be aware of the "unprecedented and immoral" price increase.

Meanwhile, inside the meeting the company was touting its successes to shareholders. Abbott reported $5.22 billion in revenue for the first quarter, a 14% increase over the same period last year.

No shareholders asked about the protest outside the meeting or about the massive increase in Norvir's price. But one AIDS activist who sneaked into the meeting with the help of a firm with shares in the company put the question to executives during a question and answer period.

"How can the reputational harm caused by all of this negative outcry possibly be beneficial to investors?" Terri Ford of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation asked.

"Nobody likes a price increase," acknowledged Jim Howley, advocacy relations manager at Abbott, who is an AIDS patient himself and a former community activist. "The most important thing is to have Abbott stay in HIV" drug development.

Earlier this week two California residents who require Norvir filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for Northern California, seeking compensatory damages and an injunction to halt the higher prices.

The Attorneys General in New York and Illinois are in the midst of an investigation to determine Abbott engaged in deceptive or unfair pricing practices. ( story) And the spiraling cost of Norvir is being probed by the federal government. ( story)

by Steph Smith Newscenter
Chicago Bureau
©® 2004

This article originally appeared on Republished with permission.