Lawmakers Allege AbbVie Exploits US Patents to Protect Humira Profits

By Diane Bartz

May 19, 2021

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. lawmakers on Tuesday accused the chief executive of AbbVie Inc of profiting off of Americans by repeatedly raising prices on its widely-prescribed Humira rheumatoid arthritis drug while cutting the price outside the United States.

The increases should be an impetus for Congress to pass a law to allow the Medicare federal health plan to negotiate prices with drug companies, said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, chair of the House Oversight Committee.

The committee issued a staff report on Tuesday that said AbbVie exploited the U.S. patent system to fend off competitors and increased the price of Humira to $77,000 for a year's supply, while the price of cancer drug Imbruvica was raised to $181,529 per year. It called Humira "the highest grossing drug in the world."

"This investigation also revealed something even more distressing: drug companies are actively targeting the U.S. for price increases, while cutting prices in the rest of the world," Maloney said.

AbbVie CEO Richard Gonzalez testified about the high cost of developing and bringing a drug to market. He did not directly address concerns about the company's use of patents, in particular allegations that it applied for more than 200 patents for Humira, known as a "patent thicket," so it could file multiple lawsuits against companies seeking to sell generic, or biosimilar, versions of the medicine.

That angered Republican Clay Higgins, who pressed Gonzalez to explain the company's patent practices.

When Gonzalez attempted to defend the patents, Higgins cut him off. "They're frivolous," he said. "You have a right to make an honest profit but it's a question of whether or not it's an honest profit."

Representative James Comer, the top Republican on the committee, also took aim at one of AbbVie's patent practices.

"While seeking hundreds of patents on a medication or vaccine is not illegal under our existing system, it can be anti-competitive and result in higher costs for patients," he said.

AbbVie made $16 billion from Humira from U.S. patients in 2020, the report said. Humira - for several years the world's top-selling prescription medicine - is expected to have sales in excess of $20 billion in 2021, according to Refinitiv data.