Under the garish Abbott tower, in the center of the exhibition hall at BC Place Exhibition hall., members of ACT UP (The AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) presented a Golden Urn to Abbott Laboratories, the maker of Ritonavir, a new protease inhibitor that costs patients $8,000 US per year, the highest price of any of the protease inhibitors. ACT UP's Golden Urns are given to drug companies, public officials and organizations whose policies and actions are hastening the deaths of people with AIDS.
Abbott has refused to justify this price and has rejected calls for an independent audit of its research and manufacturing costs. Activists have repeatedly met with Abbott officials to try to convince them to lower this price, which can contribute to overall drug costs of as much as $30,000 US per person year.
"Abbott is exploiting people with AIDS by charging all the market will bear," commented ACT UP Golden Gate member Stephen LeBlanc. "Ritonavir's cost puts the drug out of reach for millions of people with HIV." Added ACT UP Philadelphia's Steven Parmer, "Public health institutions have a choice: go bankrupt trying to pay for these potentially life-saving medications, or deny access to whole nations of people with AIDS."
Abbott's deceit also limited access before FDA approval to a 1,000 person lottery, claiming it had severely limited drug supply. Two months later, after FDA approval, they suddenly had enough drug to stockery pahrma in the United States.
Abbott has balked at providing crucial patient education information to US clinics. Patient information is important because Ritonavir is associated with numerous potentially lethal drug interactions. The drug blocks an enzyme in the liver that helps the body process many drugs. Without this enzyme, patients can overdose on common drugs they are taking including antihistamines, antifungal drugs, antidepressants, tuberculosis treatments, and many more.
Thus far, Abbott has failed to perform crucial drug interaction studies on many of the drugs listed above, as well as other protease inhibitors and non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NNRTIs).
Abbott also delayed research into HIVIG - a treatment that may prevent perinatal transmission - for over two years by refusing to release the drug to NIH researchers. Only after the drug was bought by another company did trials begin.
"Ritonavir can be dangerous and it costs too much," said ACT UP Atlanta member Roger Garza, "The company continually refuses to pay for the studies needed to give us answers on why the drug fails many people and the huge unanswered questions about serious drug interactions."