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AIDS protesters picket Abbott shareholder meeting
  By Kim Dixon
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Patients and advocates angry over Abbott Laboratories Inc.'s decision to raise the price of a key AIDS drug took their case to the drug maker's annual shareholder meeting on Friday.
Several dozen protesters, including AIDS advocates, patients and senior citizens upset about the high price of other Abbott drugs, converged outside Abbott's headquarters where shareholders were meeting.
At issue is a decision by the North Chicago-based company to raise the price of its AIDS drug Norvir about 400 percent. At least two state attorneys general are probing the increase and Abbott is the target of several lawsuits on the issue.
"I think Abbott was hoping the AIDS community had grown soft and fat," said Jim Pickett, 38, an AIDS patient and advocate who lives in Chicago. He said he wanted shareholders to be aware of the "unprecedented and immoral" price increase.
Abbott contends the price hike is from about $600 a year to $3,100 a year under the most commonly prescribed dose.
AIDS advocates say the price hike is even higher, from roughly $2,500 to about $10,000 yearly, taking into account that Norvir is necessary for other drugs to work.
Norvir, generically called ritonavir, is a component of many AIDS-fighting cocktails and helps quell the HIV virus that causes AIDS. It is unique in that it boosts the effectiveness of other AIDS drugs.
Abbott defends the price change, noting it is still among the lowest in its class. The company argues that the increase was long overdue and is necessary for it to recoup costs.
During the meeting, no shareholders asked questions about the protesters outside, according to spokeswoman Jennifer Smoter.
"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.
Prescription drug costs generally are soaring at several times the rate of overall price inflation, creating a escalating public image problem for the pharmaceutical industry, analysts say.


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