Appeals court gives GSK another shot at AbbVie in HIV drug-pricing fight

GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) has another chance to wrangle with AbbVie ($ABBV) over HIV drug prices. A federal appeals court ordered a new trial for GSK, which had sued Abbott Laboratories ($ABT) for jacking up the price of its AIDS treatment Norvir, because Abbott excluded a gay man from the jury.

In its original complaint, Glaxo accused Abbott--which since has spun off its pharma business as AbbVie--of unfairly hiking the price on Norvir, one of the drugs commonly paired with Glaxo's Lexiva in an HIV-fighting cocktail. Abbott was selling its own combination pill, Kaletra, and the 400% price hike helped steer patients away from the Norvir-plus-Lexiva combo, GSK claimed.

Originally, the trial jury decided that Abbott had breached a licensing deal with Glaxo, but that the pricing move didn't violate competition laws. The panel awarded Glaxo $3.5 million; the company had sought $571 million in damages.

The 9th Circuit Court cited gay rights in ordering the new trial, Reuters reports. "Strikes exercised on the basis of sexual orientation continue this deplorable tradition of treating gays and lesbians as undeserving of participation in our nation's most cherished rites and rituals," Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote in the unanimous decision.

As the news service points out, HIV drug prices are a constant concern in the gay community. When Abbott challenged the potential juror, Glaxo objected, saying the move was discriminatory. But the trial judge allowed the exclusion. In light of the recent Supreme Court decision on the Defense of Marriage Act--U.S. v. Windsor--the appeals court reconsidered.

Glaxo spokeswoman Mary Anne Rhyne told Reuters that the company was pleased by the decision. An AbbVie spokeswoman said the company is weighing its options.

- read the Reuters news

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