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AIDS patients, Abbott agree to settle lawsuit
  The Associated Press
Published: July 31, 2008
SAN FRANCISCO: Drug company Abbott Laboratories Inc. agreed Wednesday to pay between $10 million and $27.5 million to settle an antitrust lawsuit filed by AIDS patients over the company's 400 percent price hike of a popular HIV drug.
The ultimate payout depends on the resolution in an appeals court of three technical legal questions, Abbott spokeswoman Melissa Brotz said.
The settlement also needs to be approved by a federal judge in Oakland, where the lawsuit was set to go to trial next month.
The North Chicago, Ill.-based company had faced as much as $1 billion in damages if the judge agreed with the patients' economic experts and found Abbott hiked the price of the drug to stifle competition.
Lawyers for the patients didn't immediately return telephone calls.
The drug, Norvir, is a key component in several important "cocktails" containing drugs made by rivals to treat the disease.
On Dec. 3, 2003, Abbott increased the price of Norvir's average daily cost per patient from $1.71 to $8.57, prompting cries of price gouging from the AIDS community.
The Food and Drug Administration originally approved the pioneering AIDS drug in 1999 as a standalone treatment. But by 2003, doctors were prescribing Norvir as a "booster" drug to be used along with other drug combinations. The Norvir price hike effectively increased the cost of those combinations.
Abbott said it increased the drug's price because patients required much smaller doses of Norvir when used as a booster rather than as a standalone drug.
The patients and others, including several rival drug makers, accused the company of raising Norvir's price to drive up the cost of competitors' AIDS cocktails and drive traffic to Abbott's newly introduced multi-drug cocktail called Kaletra.
Abbott still faces six other antitrust lawsuits filed by 16 companies, including rival SmithKline Beacham Corp. Two other lawsuits filed in Illinois have been dismissed.
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