AIDS Watch petitions against drug price hikes

Students from Yale AIDS Watch who oppose national corporation Abbott Laboratories’ altering the prices of certain medications are pressuring the company and mobilizing support for the cause with a campus-wide petition.

The group is joining forces with about 15 similar groups in the intercollegiate Student AIDS Watch. SAW will work with the Organization HIV Healthcare Providers, a group consisting of several thousand doctors who are boycotting Abbott.

Abbott, the maker of a unique AIDS drug called Norvir, recently raised the price of the drug by about 400 percent. Opponents charge Abbott with bundling Norvir with a protease inhibitor drug the company manufactures, Kaletra, in order to increase Kaletra’s market share. Activists are concerned not only about the increase in Norvir’s price but also about the legal issues surrounding Abbott’s use of its market monopoly to bundle the drugs and, some say, unethically increase sales. The groups hope to force Abbott to license the drug found in Norvir, thus allowing other companies to manufacture it.

Abbott representatives maintain that the Norvir price increase reflects recent changes in the drug’s prominence and role in the treatment of HIV. Pharmaceutical public affairs manager for the company Nicole Wesley said the repricing represents “the current scientific and patient benefit” that Norvir provides.

“It was launched as a standalone therapy,” Wesley said. “After a while, it was discovered that Norvir provides a boosting effect, meaning it makes other drugs last longer in the bloodstream and keeps the viral levels down within the blood. The issue of drug pricing goes beyond that of just one drug by one manufacturer; it involves the full spectrum of HIV drugs and how they are priced.”

Matt Wilson ’05, who co-founded YAW and serves as a director, said Yale’s campaign is focused on enforcing the Bayh-Dole Act, a 1980 patent policy that allows the government to enforce compulsory licensing. The law applies when the product in question has been developed using government funding, and Wilson said Abbott received government funding during the research and creation of Norvir.

“Enforcing the Bayh-Dole Act would force prices to be lower across the board,” Wilson said. “We’ve been mainly focusing on a large-scale petition campaign to get [Secretary of U.S. Department of Health and Human Services] Tommy Thompson to use this law against Abbott.”

Dr. Howard Grossman, a Manhattan general practitioner and member of the Organization of HIV Healthcare Providers, said Yale’s and other schools’ cooperation with the organization is promising.

“Younger people have lots of energy, so that’s very exciting for us,” he said. “It’s a little tough to run a practice and a boycott at the same time.”

Large-scale participation could be the determining factor in the issue, Grossman said. If SAW chapters encouraged their universities to join the fight, he said, they could be highly effective.

“School groups are important,” Grossman said. “I don’t know what position Yale has with Abbott, but if Yale were to make a stink at the upcoming annual meeting, that could carry a big weight.”

Co-founder and director David Steinberg ’05 said such administrative action would be appreciated but is not expected.

“The overall goal of SAW is to get as much support as possible,” Steinberg said. “Faculty members may sign the petition, and we’d love to see some indirect consequences as well.”

Norvir is a twice-daily booster drug that is part of a highly active anti-retroviral treatment, or HAART, against HIV.

Co-president of Yale AIDS Watch David Steinberg ’05 and his organization plan to circulate a campus-wide petition to oppose Abbott Laboratories’ raising of the prices of AIDS drugs like Norvin.
Eleanor Sokolow
Co-president of Yale AIDS Watch David Steinberg ’05 and his organization plan to circulate a campus-wide petition to oppose Abbott Laboratories’ raising of the prices of AIDS drugs like Norvin.

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