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Prescription Costs and Drug Research

June 05, 2004

Re "Activists Put Drug Research on Chopping Block," Commentary, June 1: I was described by James Glassman and Nick Schulz as a "left-wing activist" who is engaged in a "relentless campaign against technological innovation" spreading "Luddite nonsense that kills people." Allow me to respond. What has them riled up is Essential Inventions' petition asking the Bush administration to allow generic drug companies to use six government-funded patents relating to the AIDS drug ritonavir, sold now under the trade name Norvir.

Abbott Laboratories recently increased the price of Norvir by 400%. The price hike applies only in the U.S., and only if you buy Norvir for AIDS cocktails that use protease inhibitors sold by Abbott's competitors. Norvir is now five to 10 times more expensive in the U.S. than in other high-income countries, and five times more expensive in the U.S. if purchased with non-Abbott AIDS drugs.

U.S. law says that the government can intervene if federally funded inventions are not "available to the public on reasonable terms." The U.S. government not only gave Abbott a $3.5-million grant for the research that led to six ritonavir patents, it also conducted extensive intramural research on ritonavir, gave out 618 additional grants to study ritonavir and sponsored 62 clinical trials.

Glassman and Schulz ask the public to accept any pricing of government-funded inventions and never complain. We ask the Bush administration to address an outrageous abuse involving a government-funded invention.

James Love

President, Essential

Inventions, Washington

Schulz and Glassman should be reminded that in a free economy, there would be no corporate welfare. If a drug company does not want its latest discovery to be put to use for the public good -- if it wants to continue to reap fantastic profits on its latest drug -- then it shouldn't accept government assistance in financing the drug's development.

John R. Singleton

Los Angeles

It's about time someone spoke up on behalf of the pharmaceutical industry. Although I cannot "justify" the 400% increase Abbott Laboratories took on Norvir, the company may be in a position whereby it needs to recuperate funds lost in other areas of research and development. Seventy percent of all drugs that begin development never make it to market.

There are generic manufacturers that raid corporations by finding loopholes in patents. This also significantly affects the profitability of a corporation, not only by "stealing" its ability to recoup invested dollars but by forcing the organizations to spend millions of dollars on legal fees.

Let's not forget the fact that most pharmaceutical companies provide samples to physicians so that patients can start a new medication without having to pay "out of pocket" to determine if their newly prescribed medication is effective for them. For most companies, this is to the tune of millions of dollars per year.

Kendall Yandell

Burbank

The difference in old and new prices, from $1.71 to $8.57 a day, is indeed about 400%. The actual new price is about 500% of the original. That translates into a cost increase from about $52 to $261 a month -- a substantial increase for someone on a low-to-moderate income. Glassman and Schulz's callous contention that "it would seem a small price to pay when faced with the alternative of dying" must be seen in the context of choosing to pay for drugs instead of food, rent or other necessities. I value saving lives over their ideal of an economy "constrained only by the forces of competition and supply and demand."

Jamie Kravitz

West Hollywood

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