updated 2/12/2004 1:13:20 PM ET 2004-02-12T18:13:20

One of the nation’s largest AIDS-care providers is suing pharmaceuticals giant Abbott Laboratories for raising the price of its drug Norvir nearly 400 percent, claiming the action threatens the lives of people infected with HIV.

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The federal suit, filed Tuesday, accuses the company of violating federal antitrust laws by abusing its patent on the drug ritonavir, which is sold under the brand name Norvir.

“Abbott’s pricing of ritonavir is unreasonable, anticompetitive and threatens the health and safety of people with AIDS,” according to the suit filed by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation.

It seeks unspecified damages and a court order setting a price for the drug that is within “reasonable financial reach of the HIV-infected public.”

“Our primary objective is to roll back the price,” said Michael Weinstein, president of AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which operates clinics in California, Florida, New York, Africa and Central America. He said the increase threatens to put the drug out of the reach of thousands of poor people.

Company denies wrongdoing
Abbott is already under investigation by officials in New York and Illinois who are trying to determine whether it acted illegally when it raised the price last December. The North Chicago-based company increased Norvir’s wholesale cost for a 30-day supply to $257.10 from $52.50.

Abbott has denied any wrongdoing and on Wednesday a company spokeswoman dismissed the suit as “without merit.”

“We haven’t reviewed the lawsuit. We have, however, reviewed our pricing policies,” said spokeswoman Ann Fahey-Widman. “Abbott has acted lawfully. This recent pricing action in no way limits access or choice to the full range of HIV therapies.”

The company had previously said it provided Norvir at a reasonable price for years while manufacturers of other anti-HIV drugs charged premium prices.

In July 2002, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation sued another huge pharmaceuticals company, GlaxoSmithKline, accusing it of price gouging on three of its drugs and of abusing the U.S. patent system.

GlaxoSmithKline has said it patents are valid and its pricing policies are fair.

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