Drugmaker giant, AbbVie, is facing a putative class-action lawsuit for its use of 136 patents on its drug Humira, which effectively protects it from competition until 2023. This complaint followed harsh criticism of AbbVie CEO, Richard Gonzalez, for the company’s strategic use of patents and high drug prices by the Senate Finance Committee just a month prior.
The complaint against AbbVie was filed in early March in a U.S District Court of Illinois. The plaintiff of the case is Local 1500 of the United Food and Commercial Workers, a union that represents employees of grocery store chains in New York. Meanwhile, the complaint lists numerous defendants, including AbbVie and seven additional manufacturers for their role in patent settlements with AbbVie.
The complaint states, “AbbVie has erected significant barriers to entry to block biosimilar competition,”, and adds, “Specifically, AbbVie has created and employed an exclusionary ‘patent thicket’ —an unlawful scheme whereby it secured over 100 patents designed solely to insulate Humira from any biosimilar competition in the U.S. for years to come.”.
The complaint also claims that through effectively shielding Humira from any competition, it has cost the healthcare industry billions of dollars. “For example, Wells Fargo analyst David Maris calculated that AbbVie’s 9.7% price hike on Humira in 2018 cost the country’s healthcare system approximately $1.2 billion.”, stated the complaint. Without competition, AbbVie is able to sell its star product for whatever price they desire, and as the only one of its kind, consumers are forced to pay this high cost.
Since its entrance on the market in 2003, Humira alone has earned over $130 billion for AbbVie. Since then, companies like Pfizer, Bioepis, Amgen, and Mylan have reached settlements with AbbVie regarding patent disagreements. However, the complaint filed against AbbVie claims that these settlements were “illegal market division agreements” and allowed AbbVie to maintain its hold on the industry.
The complaint also discusses AbbVie’s lack of patent protection against competitors in Europe, claiming that the lower prices of competitors in Europe have been “subsidized” by Humira’s high cost in the United States.
At this time, AbbVie has declined to comment on the filing. However, while it appears that the scrutiny of the pharmaceutical industry and its practices are on the rise, it is likely that this case and similar cases will have a massive effect on the future of the healthcare system. To avoid further scrutiny and complaints, pharmaceutical manufacturers like AbbVie will be forced to adapt and improve. Until then, it is important that patients, representatives, and the authorities in charge continue to voice their concerns about the pharmaceutical industry and work to ensure that changes are made.
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