Archive for the ‘Abbott Laboratories’ Category
Tuesday, June 5th, 2012
[Also posted on Postscript]
The guilty plea and $1.5 billion settlement by Abbott to resolve their illegal off-label promotion of Depakote revealed a saga of extensive industry abuses and influence peddling that put millions of vulnerable seniors at risk. Abbott’s extensive promotion of the unapproved uses of the anti-convulsant drug Depakote to treat both seniors with dementia and to treat children is shocking. But it is even more alarming that this not the first major drugmaker to plead guilty to illegal marketing tactics that have targeted this exceptionally vulnerable population of seniors.
Many may recall that Eli Lilly was caught illegally promoting the unapproved, or “off-label” use of the antipsychotic drug Zyprexa to treat seniors with dementia, despite their internal studies showing that the risk of death from this drug increased in elderly patients.
Marketing these drugs to nursing homes for use on patients who ‘act up’ or are unruly has been a lucrative strategy for drugmakers. In response, we applaud the Department of Justice and the State Attorneys-General for their increasingly aggressive litigation to penalize these dangerous and unconscionable marketing practices.
But unfortunately for the millions of seniors who may be given Depakote or Zyprexa today or in the near future, the record-breaking $1.4 and $1.5 billion settlements respectively may not translate into improved care, unless further action is taken.
We urge Medicare and Medicaid officials at the federal and state level to move quickly to develop and implement safeguards, such as prior approvals or mandatory second opinions, that could be put in place to protect these vulnerable seniors from any unwarranted or inappropriate use of the drug Depakote to treat their dementia.
Looking forward, it’s time that all off-label settlements by the DOJ or the states include a requirement that the drugmaker pay to correct the misinformation that off-label marketing creates – i.e. that a drug is safer or more effective than it really is. Using lawsuits to fund corrective educational campaigns has a long history, both in public and private sector litigation. (See description here.)
To help stop the inappropriate and potentially harmful overuse of Depakote, Zyprexa, or Risperdal from continuing, doctors should be retrained to undo the misinformation campaigns by Abbott, Eli Lilly, and Johnson and Johnson. Several states, including Pennsylvania and New York have implemented “academic detailing” programs that send independent medical experts, usually nurse practitioners and pharmacists, to provide doctors with the truth about how effective drugs are from an objective, evidence-based perspective. Many state programs specifically address mental health drugs such as Zyprexa and Depakote. Indeed, one of the first of these education programs designed by Dr. Jerry Avorn, who spearheaded the concept in the 1990’s, recommended that a little tender loving care by nursing home staff could reduce the inappropriate use of sedatives, common at that time. A similar conclusion was reached by some nursing homes profiled in an inspiring Boston Globe article addressing the overuse of Depakote.
– Wells Wilkinson,
Director, Prescription Access Litigation
Staff Attorney, Community Catalyst
Tuesday, May 29th, 2012
Posted May 29th, 2012
The Affordable Care Act created some desperately needed means to start controlling ever-rising health care costs. Many — like preventive care or delivery reforms — will take some time to realize savings. In contrast, new anti-fraud efforts look to be paying off right away, in amounts much bigger than expected.
The health reform law provided $350 million over ten years to increase anti-fraud investigation and enforcement resources for the Department of Justice (DOJ) and State Attorneys-General. The goal? Saving $6.4 billion over the next decade. Given that some estimate that fraud and waste cost as much as $60 billion a year, or $600 billion over a decade, saving one percent of that amount seems a pretty modest impact.
But wait! New estimates project that current or pending settlements of drug fraud litigation by the DOJ and the Attorneys-General will top $8 billion in FY2012 alone, according to the group Taxpayers Against Fraud. (See list below.) This is not the culmination of hundreds of lawsuits; it’s just the eight biggest. So it looks like this anti-fraud effort under the ACA will meet and then surpass its ten-year goal in less than two years!
To be fair, most of these eight drug fraud investigations were undoubtedly underway before the increased funding for anti-fraud efforts reached the DOJ and State Attorneys-General offices. But there is little doubt that providing these over-worked regulators with increased resources was a big help in increasing enforcement. DOJ probably has fewer lawyers working on all their pending drug fraud cases than some of the biggest drugmakers hire to defend a single lawsuit. But despite these disparities, these results show that very modest government investment in fighting fraud, coupled with hard work by government lawyers and whistleblowers, can pay off big.
For example, earlier this week drugmaker Abbott Labs in Chicago settled a civil and criminal investigation of their illegal promotion of the anti-convulsant drug Depakote as an unapproved treatment of dementia in seniors, and of various conditions in children. Abbott pleaded guilty to promoting these unapproved, or ‘off-label’ uses of Depakote, and agreed to pay $1.6 billion – one of the biggest settlements for the illegal promotion of a single drug.
There could be as many as a couple hundred pending whistle-blower lawsuits that are filed under seal and being investigated now by the federal or state regulators. These pending lawsuits may add up to billions of dollars of additional fines and settlements.
Some critics have warned that even billion-dollar fines are an inadequate deterrent when a drug company can make far in profits on illegally promoted sales of a drug.
For instance, the $1.4 billion record-breaking settlement with Eli Lilly in 2009 for illegal promotion of their antipsychotic drug Zeprexa was less than 5 percent of Lilly’s gross sales. Eight months later, DOJ shattered this record with an even bigger $2.3 billion settlement, which amounted to 14 percent of Pfizer’s gross sales of eight illegally marketed drugs (see here).
Similarly, this month’s $1.6 billion Depakote settlement is nearly 12 percent of the drug’s $13.8 billion in gross sales revenue from 1998 to 2008. Furthermore, DOJ is pioneering two mechanisms to deter future illegal conduct by Abbott, along with this hefty fine.
First, the Depakote settlement places Abbott on probation and imposes a corporate compliance and monitoring program, for five years. If Abbott violates the compliance agreement or significantly violates the law, the government can exclude Abbott, and all their drug products, from federal health care programs. That would cost Abbott billions in lost sales on numerous drugs.
The settlement also aims to hold Abbott’s corporate leadership personally accountable. Abbott’s CEO must personally certify compliance and the board of directors must review and report on compliance each year. If the CEO or the board is lax in these duties, they could be excluded from their positions at Abbott. And if CEO or board intentionally lie to the government to cover up any misconduct, they could face personal criminal liability under the federal False Statements Statute. (Find the plea agreement and related documents here.)
Sadly, Abbott’s illegal promotion of ineffective and dangerous uses of Depakote has both harmed and put at risk what is arguably the most vulnerable patient population – seniors suffering from dementia, who live away from their families in nursing homes. Undoubtedly millions of seniors were, and likely continue to be given Depakote inappropriately as a result of Abbott’s illegal promotional campaign.
Check back soon for more on (1) actions that Medicare and Medicaid can take to address the continuing effects on patients of illegal promotions of off-label use of drugs and (2) how the Arkansas AG fought prescription drug fraud, winning huge fines to plug the state’s Medicaid budget deficit.
Director, Prescription Access Litigation
Staff Attorney, Community Catalyst
Projected Drug Fraud Settlements in FY 2012, excerpted from the Taxpayers Against Fraud website.
||Off-label marketing of Vioxx — settled
||Series of drug frauds, said to be settled in principle.
||Off-label marketing of Depakote, settled.
||Illegal marketing of Aranesp, funds reserved.
||Illegal marketing of protonix, projected settlement amount.
|Johnson & Johnson
||Off-label marketing of Risperdal, civil settlement is expected.
||Adulteration of HIV drugs, settlement in excess of $400 million expected.
||AWP pricing fraud, settled.
A version of this blog was posted earlier on Health Policy Hub and Postscript.
Friday, December 19th, 2008
As we reported back in August, (Abbott and plaintiffs agree to proposed Norvir settlement), Abbott Laboratories (NYSE:ABT) and plaintiffs who brought a nationwide class action challenging Abbott’s 400% price increase on its HIV/AIDS drug Norvir agreed to a settlement of between $10 million and $27.5 million. Under the settlement, the amount that Abbott would have to pay would depend on whether the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals accepts an appeal of certain key issues in the case, and how that Court ultimately rules on those questions. For a full description of the different scenarios, and amounts that Abbott would have to pay, see the earlier post here.
Yesterday, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued an order accepting the appeal. This allows the settlement process to move forward, although how much Abbott will have to pay will remain up in the air until the Ninth Circuit issues its actual decision on the appeal.
The order can be found here.
Friday, August 15th, 2008
We’ve frequently reported here on the Prescription Access Litigation (PAL) blog about the class action lawsuit brought by PAL coalition member SEIU Health & Welfare Fund and others against Abbott Laboratories [NYSE:ABT], challenging Abbott’s December 2003 price increase of 400% on its HIV/AIDS drug, Norvir. That lawsuit alleged that Abbott’s price-hike was intended to increase the sales and market share of another Abbott HIV/AIDS drug, Kaletra.
We’re pleased to announce that SEIU Health & Welfare Fund, the two individual plaintiffs in the class action and Abbott agreed to a proposed settlement of the case on August 13, 2008. Abbott has agreed to pay between $10 Million and $27.5 Million, depending on court rulings to come, to settle the nationwide claims by consumers who were overcharged for the medicine.
There have been a number of important decisions by the Court to date that have set the stage for this settlement. On June 11, 2007, the Court certified the case as a nationwide class action. On May 16, 2008 the Court issued a ruling that was a partial victory for the plaintiffs and a partial victory for Abbott. The Court held that Abbott could not claim a patent that it holds on Norvir as a defense to the plaintiffs’ claims (the partial win for the plaintiffs). However, the Court also dismissed the plaintiffs’ claims for “unjust enrichment.” These claims alleged that Abbott was “unjustly enriched” by its allegedly illegal Norvir price hike.
What’s important about this dismissal is that these common law unjust enrichment claims were the only nationwide claims for monetary damages (as opposed to claims for “injunctive relief,” that is, for changes in company practices) in the case. When the Court dismissed these claims, the only claims for damages that remained in the case were under California state law. Thus, in a nutshell, after the Court’s May 16 order, the case for monetary damages was narrowed to cover just consumers and health plans in California.
Abbott had asked the Court to allow an “interlocutory appeal.” This means, basically, that Abbott asked the District Court to ask the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to make a decision on a particular question of antitrust law that Abbott felt could determine the outcome of the case. The Court refused, since the trial was at that point only three months away.
The proposed settlement attempts to get the Court of Appeals to resolve this and several other legal issues, and to tie the amount of the settlement to the decisions of the Court of Appeals. Abbott and the plaintiffs will ask the court hearing the case (the federal District Court for the Northern District of California) to allow them to appeal three legal issues to the 9th Circuit immediately. These legal issues are ones that have been essential to the plaintiff’s success so far, and which Abbott would likely appeal if the plaintiffs were to win at trial.
There are several different forms the settlement could take, depending on how this appeal goes:
- If the District court ”certifies” all three questions up to the Ninth Circuit for appeal, and the Ninth Circuit accepts at least two of them, Abbott will pay a non-refundable $10 Million in to a settlement fund. That $10M (and possibly more – see below) would eventually be distributed to 13 different non-profit organizations that benefit people with HIV/AIDS. (See a list of those organizations here).
- How much Abbott would have to pay beyond the initial $10M depends on how the 9th Circuit rules on the appeals questions:
- If Abbott wins the appeal of any of the three questions before the Ninth Circuit, then it doesn’t pay anything beyond the initial $10M.
- If the plaintiffs win on all the questions before the 9th Circuit, then Abbott must contribute another $17.5 Million to the settlement fund.
- If the 9th Circuit “remands” (sends back) the case to the District Court for any reason (such as asking the District Court to make findings of fact), then Abbott must contribute only $4.375 Million more to the settlement fund.
In a nutshell, Abbott will ultimately pay between $10M and $27.5M. After the attorneys’ fees and expenses are paid (approximately 1/3 of the total), here is how the rest of the settlement will be divided:
- If Abbott wins any one of the questions before the Ninth Circuit, then the $10M, reduced to $6-7 M after costs and attorneys’ fees, will be distributed equally to all the cy pres recipients on the list above.
- If, however, the court remands any question, or if the Plantiffs win all the questions, then the settlement amount ($14.3M or $27.5M respectively, before legal costs and fees, or between $9.6 and $18.4M after) will be divided, with
- 70% of it (between $6.7M and $12.8M approximately) going to the 13 organizations described above, and
- 30% (between $2.9M and $5.5M approximately) going to consumers and TPPs in California)
Confusing? Yes. But the settlement is a creative resolution of the lawsuit. It takes into account the different possible outcomes to a trial and inevitable appeal, and essentially adjusts the amount of the settlement accordingly.
The Court has scheduled a hearing for August 19 on whether to grant “preliminary approval” to the Settlement. If it does grant that approval, notice will be published to alert members of the class about the proposed settlement. Consumers and TPPs that paid for Norvir will have the option of opting out of the settlement (if they want to pursue their own individual lawsuits against Abbott), objecting to the terms of the settlement, and, if they are located in California, filing claims forms to receive a portion of the settlement proceeds. The Court will schedule a Final Approval hearing for several months from now. After that hearing, the Court will decide whether to grant Final Approval to the settlement. If it does grant that approval, and after any appeals, the money in the settlement will be distributed as described above.
To see a copy of the settlement, go here.
Tuesday, July 1st, 2008
We’ve written a lot on the past few months about the national class action lawsuit against Abbott Laboratories, targetting Abbott’s December 2003 400% price increase on its HIV/AIDS drug Norvir.
The case has survived Abbott’s numerous attempts to have it dismissed, and the Judge in the case recently forced Abbott to make public some embarrassing documents that Abbott wanted to keep hidden. (See What Abbott Laboratories was Trying to Hide – Court unseals Norvir documents).
A trial is scheduled to begin in the case in August. Given that very few pharmaceutical class actions actually go all the way to trial, this is noteworthy.
Two of the lawyers representing the plaintiffs in the case, including Prescription Access Litigation coalition member SEIU Health and Welfare Fund, recently wrote an analysis of the case in the Bureau of National Affairs publication, Pharmaceutical Law & Industry Report.
With BNA’s permission, we reprint this analysis here. It gives a good overview of the case, and of the Court’s recent rulings invalidating Abbott’s patent defenses. Bear in mind that it was written with a lawyer audience in mind… (A PDF version of this piece is available here)
In a May 16, 2008, ruling, Judge Claudia Wilken of the District Court for the Northern District of California effectively extinguished Abbott Laboratories’ hopes to avoid trial in a nationwide antitrust class action suit arising from its 400 percent price increase on Norvir, a drug that has revolutionized the treatment of HIV (6 PLIR 598, 5/23/08 a0b6n3r1r0 ).1 The Court’s ruling not only offers useful insight into the sometimes-murky issue of inherent anticipation, but also has far-reaching implications for pharmaceutical companies hoping to rely on patents to avoid allegations of anticompetitive conduct.
The Plaintiffs’ Sherman Act claims in In re Abbott Laboratories Antitrust Litigation are inextricably intertwined in the biology of the HIV virus itself. A longstanding challenge to scientists working to create effective treatments for HIV is the fact that the virus reproduces very rapidly, and mutates as it does so. These mutations permit the virus to rapidly gain resistance to new drugs as they are developed. Accordingly, innovation and competition in the marketplace for new HIV treatments is crucial: without it, patients will rapidly succumb to the disease as existing treatments fail.
Beginning in about the mid-1990s, researchers developed a promising new class of treatments for HIV disease called protease inhibitors (“PIs”). The advent of this powerful new class of drugs helped transform HIV disease from a death sentence into a chronic, manageable illness. Physicians used these PIs in combination with other HIV drugs to great effect, halting the disease in its tracks for many patients. However, as soon as PIs became available, the clock began running, as the virus rapidly acquired resistance to the new treatments.
In 1996 Abbott introduced a patented PI called Norvir, the brand name for ritonavir, to be used at a recommended daily dose of 1200 milligrams. Because of the drug’s debilitating side effects at this dose, it was rarely used. However, scientists and physicians soon noticed that Norvir had a striking effect on certain metabolic pathways in the liver, dramatically slowing the metabolism of many types of drugs, including PIs. When Norvir was taken with PIs, therapeutically effective blood levels of the PIs could be consistently maintained, and the PIs could be taken at smaller doses, sparing patients many of the severe side effects associated with the drugs. More importantly, Norvir’s “boosting” effect greatly impaired the virus’ ability to develop resistance to PIs. Norvir is the only commercially available drug known to have this effect.
Indeed, unless a patient takes Norvir together with a PI, the virus can rapidly develop resistance to the entire PI class. Accordingly, Norvir boosting has become part of the standard PI treatment. To enable patients to take these boosted PI regimens, Abbott sells Norvir pills to the public.
In 2000, Abbott capitalized on Norvir’s boosting properties by launching a pill called Kaletra, in which it combined a PI called lopinavir with a boosting dose of Norvir. Kaletra was the only single-pill treatment available that combined Norvir and a PI. While Kaletra was a very effective boosted PI treatment, it was associated with serious side effects, including hyperlipidemia, lipodystrophy, and gastric problems. Notwithstanding these problems, it quickly became the dominant boosted PI prescribed, and one of Abbott’s top primary-care products.
In 2003, however, Abbott’s lucrative Kaletra business was in peril. New PIs were about to be launched by Abbott rivals GlaxoSmithKline and Bristol Myers Squibb that, when boosted with Norvir, were just as effective as Kaletra, but better tolerated and more convenient.
What Abbott did next has become the subject of enormous controversy. In December of 2003, Abbott imposed a 400 percent price increase on the Norvir sold for use with rivals’ PIs, while leaving the price of Kaletra unchanged. Overnight, Kaletra became the cheapest boosted PI regimen on the market. According to Abbott’s rival, GlaxoSmithKline, this price hike has seriously affected sales of Glaxo’s effective new boosted PI, Lexiva.
In 2004, the plaintiffs in In re Abbott Labs Norvir Antitrust Litigation brought suit under Section 2 of the Sherman Act, arguing that Abbott used the Norvir price hike as a means to protect Kaletra from the competitive threat it faced from newer and safer drugs such as Lexiva. Abbott argued in its defense that it raised the price of Norvir in light of the increased clinical importance of the drug, and because it was being used in smaller doses as a booster than it was as a stand-alone PI.2
Abbott also mounted an affirmative defense of patent immunity premised on patents it claimed on the boosting method. In essence, Abbott argued that because it had patents on the method of using Norvir to boost PIs, it was entitled to exclude competitors from the market for Boosted PIs by any means it liked, including a Norvir price hike.
Indeed, Abbott’s boosting patents were a source of substantial revenue for the Company. As Abbott itself explained in documents filed with the Court, “[a]t considerable expense, Abbott’s four major competitors in the Boosted Market have taken a license to these patents for the express purpose of ‘promot[ing] and market[ing] certain of [their] products with Ritonavir for the purpose of co-prescription/co-administration.’”3
After bringing two unsuccessful motions for summary judgment in 2005 and 2006, Abbott filed a third motion in February of 2008, premised in part on its patent immunity defense. The benefits of this tactic seemed obvious. If the Company’s motion were successful, the pending case would be dismissed. If it lost, the complex patent arguments would still have to be resolved at trial, scheduled for Aug. 18.
That there was also substantial risk to Abbott’s strategy became apparent when, in response to the Company’s motion, Plaintiffs filed both an opposition to Abbott’s motion and a cross-motion of their own for partial summary judgment, attacking Abbott’s patents as invalid and asking that the Court bar the Company from asserting its patent immunity affirmative defense.
The validity arguments in Plaintiffs’ opposition and cross-motion turned in large part on the significance to be accorded language in the preambles to Abbott’s patents. Claim 9 of U.S. Patent No. 6,037,157 (the ’157 patent) states:
A method for increasing human blood levels of a drug which is metabolized by cytochrome P450 monooxygenase comprising administering to a human in need of such treatment a therapeutically effective amount of a combination of said drug or a pharmaceutically acceptable salt thereof and ritonavir or a pharmaceutically acceptable salt thereof.
Similarly, claim 21 of U.S. Patent No. 6,703,403 (the ’403 patent), which is dependent on claim 22 of the same patent. Claim 21 states:
A method for improving the pharmacokinetics of a drug which is metabolized by cytochrome P450 monooxygenase comprising administering to a human in need of such treatment an amount effective to inhibit cytochrome P450 monooxygenase of ritonavir or a pharmaceutically acceptable salt thereof.
Claim 22, in turn, states “the method of claim 21 wherein the drug which is metabolized by cytochrome P450 monooxygenase is an HIV protease inhibitor.”
In essence, both claims describe a method of using Norvir together with other drugs in order to benefit from its effects as a metabolic booster. The problem for Abbott, suggested the Plaintiffs, is that these patents were anticipated by U.S. Patent Number 5,674,882, which claims:
A method of inhibiting an HIV infection comprising administering to a human in need thereof a therapeutically effective amount of [Norvir] or a pharmaceutically acceptable salt thereof in combination with a therapeutically effective amount of another HIV protease inhibiting compound.
While all three patent claims describe a method of using Norvir in combination with other drugs, Abbott argued that the ’157 and ’403 patents differed from the earlier ’882 patent in that they claim the method of using Norvir with the intent to achieve a specific result–metabolic boosting.
In determining whether this statement of purpose supported precluded Plaintiffs’ anticipation arguments, the Court looked closely at the Federal Circuit’s 2003 decision in Jansen v. Rexall Sundown.4 In Jansen, the plaintiff sued a manufacturer of an over-the-counter vitamin supplement containing both folic acid and vitamin B12 for the contributory infringement of a patent which claims:
A method of treating or preventing macrocytic-megaloblastic anemia in humans which anemia is caused by either folic acid deficiency or by vitamin B12 deficiency which comprises administering a daily dosage of a vitamin preparation to a human in need thereof comprising at least about .5 mg of vitamin B12 and at least .5 mg of folic acid.
In determining that the claim was not infringed, the Jansen court held that “administering the claimed vitamins in the claimed doses for some purpose other than treating or preventing macrocytic-megaloblastic anemia is not practicing the claimed method, because Jansen limited his claims to treatment or prevention of that particular condition in those who need such treatment of prevention.”5 In this respect, the preamble of the patent claim, describing the purpose for administering the vitamins, “gave life and meaning” to the patent. Id.
The Court rejected Abbott’s argument that the preambles to the ’157 and ’403 patents similarly gave life and meaning to the ’157 and ’403 patents beyond what was described in the ’882 patent. The Court held that
In Jansen, the preamble language was construed as a limitation because it disclosed a specific theretofore unknown use for taking a combination of folic acid and vitamin B12–namely, the prevention and treatment of macrocytic-megaloblastic anemia. The preamble gave “life and meaning” to the claim because without it, the patent would simply recite a method that was already practiced. Here, the preamble does not disclose a new use for the prior art…. The preamble simply expresses one of the necessary results of practicing the existing method. Abbott cannot patent the practice of prior art by framing a necessary result of that practice as a claim-limiting purpose.
The Court’s ruling has dramatic consequences for the Company. Abbott now faces trial on Plaintiffs’ antitrust claims bereft of its principal defense. In light of the fact that Plaintiffs in the In re Abbott Laboratories Norvir Antitrust Case seek not only damages but nationwide injunctive relief, a loss at trial in August could have significant repercussions for the Company’s business. Moreover, a verdict against Abbott will also have preclusive effect with respect to many of the factual issues that will be tried in the cases brought by Glaxo and by the direct purchasers.
The Court’s patent ruling also has important strategic implications for industry observers. In attempting to dismiss Plaintiffs’ antitrust claims, the Company risked and lost valuable intellectual property–patents made more valuable by the fact that Norvir has shown promise as a metabolic booster to drugs used to treat other disease states as well, such as hepatitis. Even without the benefit of a victory at trial, Plaintiffs have significantly altered the playing field in the market for boosted PIs by undercutting Abbott’s claims on this crucial new technology. The Court’s decision thus stands as a caution for companies seeking to press intellectual property into service as a defense in antitrust cases.
1 In re Abbott Labs Norvir Antitrust Litigation, 2008 WL 2095516 (N.D.Cal. May 16, 2008).
2 In 2007, direct purchasers of Norvir and Abbott’s rival GlaxoSmithKline together filed six more suits, making similar allegations.
3 Abbott Laboratories’ February 13, 2008 Motion for Summary Judgment, Docket No. 445.
4 342 F.3d 1329 (Fed. Cir. 2003).
5 Jansen, 342 F.3d at 1334, cited at page 15 of Judge Wilken’s opinion.
Hollis Salzman (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a partner at Labaton Sucharow LLP. Michael Stocker (email@example.com) is an associate with the firm. Labaton Sucharow represents the Service Employees International Union Health and Welfare Fund in pending litigation against Abbott Laboratories. BNA welcomes other views on the litigation.
Reproduced with permission from Pharmaceutical Law & Industry Report, Vol. 6, No. 25 (June 20, 2008), p. 721. Copyright 2008 by The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. (800-372-1033) http://www.bna.com
Thursday, May 8th, 2008
Recently, we posted an entry here titled “What is Abbott trying to hide? Maker of Norvir asks Court to deny public the right to see documents.” We’re pleased to report that the Court denied Abbott’s motion to keep some documents under seal. We analyze these documents below.
In 2003, Abbott Laboratories (NYSE:ABT) raised the price of its HIV/AIDS drug Norvir (ritonavir) by 400% overnight. Norvir is used in combination with other “protease inhibitors,” (PIs) and it “boosts” the effectiveness of the PI it’s used with. Abbott also makes a combination pill called Kaletra that includes both Norvir and its own PI – when they raised the price of Norvir, they didn’t raise the price of Kaletra.
Prescription Access Litigation coalition member SEIU Health and Welfare Fund filed a national class action lawsuit against Abbott. The lawsuit claimed that Abbott violated federal anti-trust laws, alleging that Abbott raised Norvir’s price in order to boost sales of Kaletra, at the expense of competing PI drugs that require Norvir as a booster. In a nutshell, the lawsuit argued that Abbott tried to “leverage” its patent-protected monopoly over Norvir into a monopoly over the market for protease inhibitors.
As we’ve discussed before, Abbott has fought throughout the litigation to keep documents regarding the price increase of Norvir sealed. Abbott’s lawyers recently argued that a set of documents that they wanted shielded from public view contain “highly confidential information related to … how Abbott analyzes, views and makes strategic business decisions in the HIV pharmaceutical market.” [Order, p2.
But after a Judge recently ordered some of the documents unsealed (a copy of the Judge’s order is here) it became clear why Abbott wanted to keep what was in these documents hidden from public view.
First, these documents revealed Abbott’s disregard of how a price increase would affect HIV/AIDS patients. An email from Abbott executive Jesus Leal shows three strategies that Abbott considered to drive up sales of Kaletra, despite the potential interference with patients’ existing or future treatment regimens.
One strategy was to sell Norvir in three ways: as an ingredient in Kaletra, as a separate pill priced at five times its former price, or at the original price in a liquid form that Abbott executives admit tasted “like someone else’s vomit.” Given that many protease inhibitors have nausea as a possible side effect, even considering a strategy that would force the many HIV patients who could not afford a five-fold price increase resort to taking the foul-tasting liquid Norvir is reprehensible.
Another strategy considered was to stop selling Norvir altogether, and offer only Kaletra. But switching to Kaletra is not medically appropriate for many HIV/AIDS patients, because they eventually have to change to different PI drugs as the virus mutates and becomes resistant. A premature switch to Kaletra would deprive patients of a treatment option that they would otherwise have held in reserve until absolutely necessary.
Further, one side effect of Kaletra is hyperlipidemia (high cholesterol), which leads to higher risks of heart attack and stroke. Thus Kaletra may be less appropriate for some HIV patients than other treatments which combine Norvir(ritonavir) and other PI drugs as necessary.
Abbott considered – and eventually adopted -- a third strategy – continue selling Kaletra, but increase Norvir’s price to five times its former price. Since this time, Kaletra sales have grown significantly, from $400 million in 2003, to between $682 and $900 million in 2004, and $1.14 billion in 2006.
Exhibit 18 also reveals that Abbott planned to argue that their price increase was necessary because it was “no longer feasible for Abbott to provide a production line of Norvir capsules at the current price.” Abbott executives speculated that a price increase had a notable weakness - the company would face “exposure on price if forced to open books.” They were right. Their own released documents show that it was profit motivations and market factors, not ‘feasibility’ that caused Abbott’s unconscionable 400% price increase of the widely needed drug Norvir.
It is apparent from these documents that patient and consumer concerns were secondary to, if not absent from, Abbott’s financial considerations. One released document [Exhibit 39] has a chart summarizing a proposed slide presentation on the price increase. Not surprisingly, the one slide summary labeled “Public Relations and Activist Slide” has no summary at all, just a question mark “(?).” This shows that Abbott knew that it would be lambasted by activists for its unconscionable price increase, and that there was no good response to this criticism.
The only remorse or reservation shown in these documents was a comment by Abbott’s Vice President of Global Pharmaceutical Development, John M. Leonard, M.D. He responded to Abbott’s proposals to limit access to Norvir “I think we are on the right (but uncomfortable) track.” [Exhibit 28] ‘Uncomfortable’ is a gross understatement given that the price hike Abbott was proposing increased the annual cost of Norvir for an uninsured patient from $1,300 to $6,600 a year.
The true purpose of the price increase demonstrated: Boost Kaletra sales
The documents also showed that Abbott quintupled the price of Norvir in response to the declining market share of Kaletra relative to protease inhibitors made by competitors. Kaletra sold almost $400 million in 2003 but new PI drugs having fewer side-effects made by other drug companies threatened Kaletra’s future sales.
One slide summary in Exhibit 28 shows that Abbott knowingly increased Norvir’s price in order to push the cost of using a competing drug Reyataz to a “significantly higher price.” This, Abbott speculated, would create “formulary pressures” i.e. pressures on insurers to cover Kaletra instead of Reyataz, or to increase the co-payment that consumers would have to pay for Reyataz.
Another slide summary showed that Abbott saw the treatment improvements from Reyataz not as a boon to HIV/AIDS treatment and to patients, but as a form of unfair gain by their competitor Bristol-Meyers-Squibb (BMS) at the expense of Abbott. Ironically, Abbott didn’t consider raising its price by 400% to be unfair gain at the expense of HIV/AIDS patients.
These released documents don’t reveal much about Abbott’s price hike that wasn’t already known (see, for instance, an article that originally ran in the Wall Street Journal here) but they do reinforce how coldly calculating Abbott was in considering how best to put profits before HIV/AIDS patients.
Abbott recently submitted a Motion for Summary Judgment to the Court hearing the Norvir class action. If this motion is denied, a trial in the case is currently scheduled for August 2008.
Readers, what do you think of the released documents? Do they change your opinion of Abbott? Or just reinforce it? Please post your thoughts in the comments.
And by the way, here are links to all the documents the Court agreed to unseal:
Thursday, April 3rd, 2008
In December 2003, Abbott Laboratories (NYSE: ABT) decided to increase the price of its HIV/AIDS drug Norvir (ritonavir) by 400%. PAL member Service Employees International Union Health & Welfare Fund filed a class action lawsuit against Abbott in October 2004, alleging that the price increase violated the antitrust laws.
Norvir is a “protease inhibitor” (PI) that is commonly used as part of AIDS “drug cocktails” (combinations of prescription drugs working together). Norvir is very important because it “boosts” the effects of other PIs taken by HIV/AIDS patients. Abbott, by increasing the cost of Norvir by 400%, effectively forced HIV/AIDS patients to pay significantly more for their life-saving drug regimens. (The Wall Street Journal did an excellent story in Jan. 2007 laying out the history of the price increase, “Inside Abbott’s tactics to protect AIDS drug“)
Abbott faced a firestorm of criticism for this outrageous price increase — there were shareholder resolutions, protests at Abbott headquarters, a boycott by hundreds of physicians, Attorney General investigations, numerous newspaper editorials lambasting the move, etc. But Abbott refused to even consider reducing the price. The only significant challenge to Abbott’s conduct is the lawsuit brought by SEIU Health and Welfare Fund and two patients.
The lawsuit has overcome significant hurdles (the Court denied Abbott’s motion to dismiss and motion for Summary Judgment, and certified the case as a class action), and the trial is scheduled to begin this summer. Abbott has again filed a motion for Summary Judgment. Such motions are filed with the Court after the parties have completed discovery (exchange of documents, depositions of witnesses and experts) but before the trial. Abbott is essentially asking the Judge to rule in its favor, arguing that based on the evidence, there’s no way a reasonable jury could find in favor of the plaintiffs.
Both Abbott and the plaintiffs have filed numerous documents with their Summary Judgment motions, and now Abbott is asking the Court to “seal” many of those documents, i.e. make them not available to the public. The motions and papers concerning Abbott’s request are here, here and here.
Why does Abbott want to keep these documents a secret and out of public view?
One of Abbott’s lawyers submitted a declaration to the Court giving the reasons:
“5. It is my understanding that the portions that have been redacted reflect, in general, Abbott’s strategic thinking and views related to pricing, public relations, marketing, research and development, market positioning, promotional activities, market segmentation, strategic brainstorming, long-range planning, sales, and lifecycle management of its pharmaceutical products that are not shared with the public or widely disseminated even within Abbott. It is my understanding that this information is kept in the highest confidence even within Abbott and is not intended to be disseminated to the general public or Abbott’s competitors.”
It seems to me that “Abbott’s strategic thinking and views related to pricing, public relations, marketing, research and development, market positioning, promotional activities, market segmentation,” etc are all of great public interest, particularly given that they concern a drug that is essential to fighting the significant public health crisis that is HIV/AIDS.
The fact that such information “is not intended to be disseminated to the general public” of course doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be. In fact, it may even be all the more reason it should be. In fact, the plaintiffs quoted a Court opinion from an unrelated case in their original filing on this issue:
“Indeed, common sense tells us that the greater the motivation a corporation has to shield its operations, the greater the public’s need to know.” [In re Lifescan, Inc. Consumer Litigation, No. C 98 20321 JF, 1999 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 9894, at ** 7-8 (N.D. Cal. June 23, 1999)]
But let’s read on…
“6. In addition, it is my understanding that many of the Exhibits, from which these redactions are made, contain information that could be confusing, misleading, or incomplete if taken out of context or without the proper background information. Therefore, some of the information redacted, in addition to being competitively sensitive, could be used to mislead the public and be perceived in a way that was never intended by the author or the deponent. Public dissemination of this information could substantially harm Abbott’s good will, standing, and relationships that it has created with the HIV/AIDS community.” [emphasis mine]
Of course, one has to ask, what good will, standing, and relationships with the HIV/AIDS community is Abbott talking about? Abbott managed to alienate virtually the entire HIV/AIDS community by raising Norvir’s price, and then further by threatening to withhold all new medicines from Thailand if Thailand’s government issued a compulsory license for the HIV/AIDS drug Kaletra (a pill that, incidentally contains Norvir, and which the Norvir price hike was intended to increase US sales of). [A compulsory license would have allowed Thailand to break the patent on Kaletra in Thailand and import a less costly generic version]
And how could Abbott think that trying to keep these documents from public view would improve its relationship with the HIV/AIDS community? It’s likely that many of the documents would just rehash what’s already publicly known about Abbott’s reprehensible price increase. Sometimes trying to keep documents secret does more harm to a company’s reputation than the documents themselves would have. Nothing arouses suspicion more than the question “What are they trying to hide?” So Abbott may have, as the expression goes, cut off its nose to spite its face with this move.
Abbott’s attorney then goes on to give “justifications” for why particular Exhibits should be sealed, all beginning with the phrase “It is my understanding that…”
The lawyers for SEIU and the class filed a response to Abbott’s attorneys arguments, which is here. They point out that:
- To have documents sealed, Abbott has to “overcome a strong presumption of access by showing that ‘compelling reasons supported by specific factual findings . . . outweigh the general history of access and the public policies favoring disclosure.’” Pintos v. Pac. Creditors Ass’n, 504 F.3d 792, 802 (9th Cir. 2007).
- “The declaration Abbott has filed in support of its sealing request… fails to satisfy Abbott’s burden…[T]he declaration is not based on the personal knowledge of Abbott’s counsel…For the most part, the declaration merely asserts [Abbott's counsel's] “understanding” of the general subject matter of the redacted portions of the documents Abbott proposes that the Court permanently seal, and presents no actual evidence.”
- The “Declaration offers little in the way of facts; rather, it is replete with unsubstantiated, conclusory statements and hypothetical assertions, as well as argument… Abbott has not even attempted to make the sort of particularized showing mandated by the applicable standards.
- And finally, “much of the information in the documents has already been made public, the documents are mostly four to six years old and therefore especially undeserving of being shielded and there is a particularly strong interest here in allowing public access to the materials at issue given that the subject matter of the litigation ‘involves matters of significant public concern.’”
So we ask you, dear readers, what do you think? Did Abbott do more harm than good in trying to seal these documents? Post your thoughts in the comments.
To receive udpates about the Norvir case, fill out the form located here.
For information about the Norvir case, including copies of court documents, go here.
Monday, March 17th, 2008
The title of this post is one of the many questions that came to mind when I read yesterday’s New York Times story, Cutting Dosage of Costly Drug Spurs a Debate. The article describes the cost of Cerezyme, a drug made by Genzyme (GENZ). As the Times reports:
“The drug in question, Cerezyme, is used to treat a rare inherited enzyme deficiency called Gaucher disease. Some experts say that for most patients, as little as one-fourth the standard top dose would work, saving the health care system more than $200,000 a year per Gaucher patient.”
This raises many questions related to how we pay for very expensive drugs, particularly for rare diseases. Of course, one question is how much should a drug like Cerezyme cost? On the one hand, it’s understandable that a drug that is used by a very small group of patients is going to cost more. But at what point does “costing more” become “exploiting patients who have no other options?”
“With Cerezyme, which is made by Genzyme, the profits are sizable. Gaucher disease, which can have complications like ruined joints, is rare; only about 1,500 people in the United States are on the drug and about 5,000 worldwide. Sales of Cerezyme totaled $1.1 billion last year, making it a blockbuster by industry standards.”
Blockbuster drugs are typically taken by hundreds of thousands, and often millions of people. For a blockbuster drug to have a patient pool of just 1,500 people is incredible.
So how much should Cerezyme cost? Genentech says:
“The company says it needs the high price to make a sustainable business of serving such a small number of patients and to pay for research on new products. Genzyme also says it provides the drug free, if necessary, so that no one goes without the product because of its cost.”
Drug companies often try to play the “research & development card,” arguing that high prices are justified because it supports research into new drugs. But a recent study showed that drug companies still spend twice as much on marketing and administration as they do on researching and developing new drugs (“The Cost of Pushing Pills: A New Estimate of Pharmaceutical Promotion Expenditures in the United States,” PLoS Medicine, 1/3/2008).
Obviously, the amounts vary by company, and the study was of the industry as a whole, not particular companies. So it’s likely that Genzyme doesn’t spend twice as much on marketing as on R&D. Even so, the “R&D card” is a notoriously self-justifying but impossible-to-measure reason for high drug prices. How much is it fair to increase a drug’s price for alleged future R&D? At what point does a drug company sacrifice the financial well-being (and ability to afford the medication) of current patients on the altar of some uncertain and unknown set of future patients?
Then there’s the most interesting question:
What is the public entitled to when our tax dollars helped a drug get developed in the first place?
The article says:
“But critics say the company’s development costs were minimal, because the early work on the treatment was done by the National Institutes of Health, which gave Genzyme a contract to manufacture it. And analysts estimate the current cost of manufacturing the drug to be only about 10 percent of its price.”
There’s a federal law that’s at the heart of this question: The Bayh-Dole Act. This Act allows recipients of government research funding to retain the title to, and file a patent on, an invention that was discovered or created with that government funding. The Act was passed because it was felt that government-financed innovations that would benefit the public were sitting on the shelves at universities and research institutes, because the inventors could not patent and market those inventions.
But there’s a never-used provision of the Bayh-Dole Act that seeks to protect the public’s investment in such inventions, including drugs: The so-called “March-in Rights” (35 USC 203). This allows the government agency that gave the funding (in this case, the National Institutes of Health) the right to “march-in,” ignore the patent, and license the invention to, say, a generic drug maker, if doing so is “necessary to alleviate health or safety needs which are not reasonably satisfied” by the holder of the patent and if the patent holder is not making the invention “available to the public on reasonable terms” [35 USC 201(f)].
Does charging $300,000 a year for Cerezyme qualify? Or, for that matter, does anything? A consumer group, Essential Inventions, submitted two petitions to the NIH in 2004, asking them to “march in” and permit generic versions of two drugs, Xalatan (for glaucoma) and Norvir (an HIV/AIDS) drug, because the price being charged for those drugs was so high. The NIH denied both petitions, saying that “available to the public on reasonable terms” doesn’t mean at a price that the public can afford.
(In the case of Norvir, the manufacturer. Abbott Laboratories (ABT), had unilaterally quadrupled the price of the drug in December 2003. Members of Prescription Access Litigation sued Abbott over the price increase, alleging that it violated antitrust law. The lawsuit survived a motion to dismiss, was certified as a national class action, and is pending in the U.S. District Court for the District of Northern California. More info on that lawsuit is here.)
So the question remains, for a drug like Cerezyme, how high a price is too high? More importantly, if the price is too high, is there anything that we, the public, can do, especially when our taxes help discover the drug in the first place?
Monday, March 10th, 2008
A $125 million settlement has been announced in a major class action lawsuit involving members of the Prescription Access Litigation (PAL) coalition. The case, In re Pharmaceutical Industry Average Wholesale Price Litigation, was originally filed in 2002, and claimed that the defendant drug companies intentionally inflated reports of the Average Wholesale Prices (AWPs) on certain prescription drugs administered in doctors’ offices and paid for by Medicare Part B. The PAL member organizations that are plaintiffs in the lawsuit are:
Until 2006, the published AWP was used to set the price that Medicare and consumers making Medicare Part B co-payments pay physicians for these drug. Private insurance companies and other third-party payors also use the AWP to determine how much to pay physicians. The lawsuit contends that
consumers and third-party payors paid more than they should because of the drug companies’ false AWP reporting.
The settlement includes branded and generic drugs used primarily in the treatment of cancer, HIV and other serious illnesses. Under the terms of the settlement 82.5 percent of the settlement fund is designated for third-party payors’ claims and the remaining 17.5 percent is designated for consumer claims.
The defendants included in today’s settlement are:
- Abbott Laboratories
- Amgen Inc.
- Aventis Pharmaceuticals Inc.
- Hoechst Marion Roussel
- Baxter Healthcare Corp.
- Baxter International Inc.
- Bayer Corporation
- Dey, Inc.
- Fujisawa Healthcare, Inc.
- Fujisawa USA, Inc.
- Immunex Corporation
- Pharmacia Corporation
- Pharmacia & Upjohn LLC
- Sicor, Inc.
- Gensia, Inc.
- Gensia Sicor Pharmaceuticals, Inc.
- Watson Pharmaceuticals, Inc.
- ZLB Behring, L.L.C.
Drugs covered in this settlement include Aranesp, Epogen, Neupogen, Neulasta, Anzemet, Ferrlecit and Infed. A full list of the drugs covered by the settlement is available here.
Medicare Part B recipients, health plans and individuals who paid for these drugs but were not on Medicare will be eligible to receive payments from this settlement once the Court finally approves it. The following types of individuals and entities will be eligible:
- Patients on Medicare Part B who paid a percentage (i.e. not a fixed copayment, but 10%, 20%, etc.) of the cost of one of the drugs in the case, taken between Jan. 1, 1991 and Jan. 1, 2005.
- Health Plans and other Third Party Payors who paid all or part of a Medicare Part B recipient’s percentage co-insurance for one of the drugs.
- Individuals not on Medicare Part B who paid all or part (a percentange) of the cost of one of the drugs taken between Jan 1, 1991 and March 1, 2008.
- Health plans and other Third Party Payors who paid all or part of the cost of one of the drugs taken by an individual not on Medicare part B between Jan 1, 1991 and March 1, 2008.
The Court will hold a “preliminary approval” hearing this Friday. If the Court grants preliminary approval to the settlement, notices will be mailed to Medicare Part B recipients and Third Party Payors, and published online and in a variety of national publications. Class members will have the opportunity to file a claim form, object to the settlement, opt out of the settlement or file an appearance with the Court. The court will eventually hold a final hearing to approve all settlement details.
This settlement is the third one announced in this AWP litigation. Iin August 2006, GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE: GSK) agreed to a nationwide $70 million settlement and in May 2007 AstraZeneca agreed to a $24 million settlement to Medicare Part B Zoladex users nationwide. After a trial in late 2006 and early 2007, the court in November 2007 ordered AstraZeneca (NYSE: AZN) and Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE: BMS) to pay nearly $14 million to insurance companies and consumers in Massachusetts for the companies’ roles in unfair trade practices. Those companies are appealing that ruling.
The court is expected to set a trial date for remaining claims against AstraZeneca and BMS on behalf of insurance companies and consumers outside of Massachusetts.
- To see the settlement, go here.
- For more information on the lawsuit and other documents filed with the Court, go here.
- To see the list of drugs included in the settlement, go here.
- For details on the GlaxoSmithKline settlement, go to gsksettlement.com.
- For details on the Astra Zeneca Zoladex settlement, go to astrazenecaawpsettlement.com
We want consumers to know about this important settlement. Please help us spread the word by adding a digg to this story on digg.com