July 4, 2022

House Committee Takes on Pricing, Patents for Top-Selling Drug Humira

AbbVie Inc.’s

ABBV 0.35%

pricing practices for some of its top-selling medicines faced fresh scrutiny from federal lawmakers Tuesday, the latest effort by members of Congress probing the cost of prescription drugs.

Democratic members of the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform have been investigating how AbbVie sets the prices of some of its products, including its top-selling immunology drug, Humira.

At the hearing, committee members questioned AbbVie Chief Executive Richard Gonzalez about price increases for Humira as well as AbbVie’s patents and other efforts to protect the drug from competition from lower-priced copies known as biosimilars.

Mr. Gonzalez said lowering drug prices alone wouldn’t increase access to prescription drugs for patients, including some Medicare patients. He said AbbVie provides medications to some patients who can’t afford them at no-cost or through co-pay assistance.

“Overall, most Americans have access to affordable medicines,” he said. “As we tackle the issues of drug pricing and access, it’s important that we focus on what’s working and what needs to change to make sure that patients get the medicines they need.”

Humira, which treats a range of immune conditions including rheumatoid arthritis, is the top-selling drug in the U.S.


Joe Buglewicz for The Wall Street Journal

The company “seeks to overwhelm potential competitors with the sheer number of patents on Humira regardless of whether individual patents were properly granted under U.S. law,” committee Democrats wrote in a report released before the hearing. “If one patent is invalidated, AbbVie has another patent waiting.”

Mr. Gonzalez defended AbbVie’s approach on patents, saying the company continued to study the drug after its initial approval, which led to its use for multiple diseases.

“We patent innovation that we believe is meaningful and that we invested in,” he said.

AbbVie declined to comment beyond Mr Gonzalez’s testimony, a spokesman said.

Republican members of the committee didn’t issue a report related to AbbVie’s pricing of its products.

Patents on Covid-19 vaccines have emerged as an issue in the coronavirus pandemic, as some governments push for intellectual property rights to be temporarily waived to spur additional production.

The Biden administration recently lent its support for temporarily waiving the vaccine patents.

Humira, which treats a range of immune conditions including rheumatoid arthritis and gut disorders, is the top-selling drug in the U.S. with more than $16.1 billion in sales last year.

AbbVie has raised Humira’s price 27 times since it launched in 2003, with a year’s supply now costing $77,586 before insurance and rebates, according to the report by committee Democrats. Humira’s current price is 470% higher than from when the drug launched in 2003, according to the report.


Have you experienced price increases for arthritis drug Humira? Join the conversation below.

The initial U.S. patent for Humira expired in December 2016, but the company has been taking out additional patents covering its formulation and manufacturing, among other things.

AbbVie executives in 2014 forecast Humira biosimilars would arrive in the U.S. in 2017 and decrease sales by $1.5 billion that year, according to the report, citing company documents.

The first lower-priced Humira biosimilars aren’t scheduled to hit the U.S. market until 2023.

AbbVie, based in the suburbs of Chicago, has obtained or applied for at least 257 Humira patents, 90% of which were filed after the drug was launched, according to the report.

Mr. Gonzalez testified that the drugmaker has a high number of Humira patents partly because the federal government’s patent office sometimes asks patents not to be too broad. He also said that companies are able to challenge patents in court.

“Everyone gets somewhat hung up on the number of patents,” he said.

The company obtained eight patents under a law designed by Congress to encourage development of drugs for rare diseases affecting fewer than 200,000 people in the U.S., according to the report.

In one instance, AbbVie split the patient population of a rare skin condition into two, a general one and one for patients at least 12 years old. The maneuvers extended Humira’s patent protection beyond the seven years intended by the federal orphan-drug law, according to the report.

AbbVie viewed the U.S. patent system as more permissive than other countries’ intellectual-property systems, the Democrats on the committee said, citing company documents.

Europe’s patent system precluded many patents obtained in the U.S., according to one of the company documents, an AbbVie white paper, that the committee Democrats cited. In Europe, several biosimilars to Humira have been available since 2018 at a reduced price.

AbbVie staved off biosimilar competition by reaching deals with companies that agreed to delay launches of their lower-priced copies, according to the report and the companies.

Some of these biosimilars have been approved for several years. A biosimilar from

Amgen Inc.,

AMGN -0.50%

which is scheduled to launch in 2023 under an agreement with AbbVie, was approved by regulators in 2016.

Rising Prescription Costs

Read more articles on Humira and drug pricing, selected by WSJ editors

Drug pricing is complicated and secretive. WSJ explains how the flow of money, drugs and rebates behind the scenes may drive up the price of prescription medicine for consumers. Illustration: Mallory Brangan

The House committee’s chairwoman, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D., N.Y.) and two other Democrats, David Cicilline (D., R.I.) and Jerry Nadler (D., N.Y.), asked the Federal Trade Commission on Tuesday to investigate whether AbbVie violated the law in trying to keep biosimilars to Humira from launching, according to a copy of the letter.

AbbVie didn’t respond to a request for comment about the letter. An FTC spokesman said the agency doesn’t publicly comment on investigation requests.

Write to Jared S. Hopkins at [email protected]

Copyright ©2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8

Related Posts

Inflation Rate Climb Adds Impetus to Fed Policy Shift

June 10, 2021

June 10, 2021

WASHINGTON—The recent inflation surge gives Federal Reserve officials further reason to begin discussing an eventual wind-down of their pandemic-driven easy-money...

Amazon Nears Deal to Buy Hollywood Studio MGM

May 24, 2021

May 24, 2021

Amazon.com Inc. AMZN 1.51% is nearing a deal to buy the Hollywood studio MGM Holdings for almost $9 billion, said...

Tribune Says Sale to Alden Wins Approval Amid Confusion Over Key Shareholder’s Vote

May 21, 2021

May 21, 2021

Tribune Publishing Co. said Friday that its shareholders voted to approve a takeover offer from Alden Global Capital LLC, amid...

Supreme Court Declines to Lift National Eviction Moratorium

June 30, 2021

June 30, 2021

WASHINGTON—A divided Supreme Court on Tuesday declined to lift a national moratorium on the eviction of tenants who have fallen...

Inflation in Rich Countries Hit a 12-Year High in April

June 2, 2021

June 2, 2021

Consumer prices across the rich world rose at the fastest pace in more than 12 years during April, as central...

Appeals Court Revives Challenge to California Law Mandating Women Board Members

June 21, 2021

June 21, 2021

A federal appeals court ruled that an investor may sue California over a 2018 law requiring publicly traded companies with...

Uber, Lyft Drivers Race to Apps That Make Contract Work a Better Gig

June 23, 2021

June 23, 2021

Drivers for Uber Technologies Inc., Lyft Inc. and DoorDash Inc. are flocking to a wave of apps designed to make...

Despite Pressure, Biogen’s Alzheimer’s Drug Still a Likely Blockbuster

June 29, 2021

June 29, 2021

American taxpayers are set to foot most of the bill for Biogen ’s new treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, and investors...

American Airlines’ Flight Cancellations Are Latest to Disrupt Travel

November 1, 2021

November 1, 2021

American Airlines Group Inc. scrubbed more than 1,900 flights over the weekend, the latest in a series of cancellations to...

Biden Administration to Suspend Oil Leases in Arctic Refuge

June 1, 2021

June 1, 2021

WASHINGTON—The Biden administration is putting a hold on oil and gas leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska,...

Pinterest Vows to Add More Female Executives, Workers of Color

May 18, 2021

May 18, 2021

Pinterest Inc. PINS 2.27% has set new targets for increasing the number of women in leadership and improving racial and...

Chinese Surveillance-Gear Maker Hikvision Has Ties to Country’s Military, Report Says

May 25, 2021

May 25, 2021

HONG KONG—The world’s largest maker of surveillance equipment has long-established links to China’s military, including conducting a study with Chinese...

WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar Says He Will Stay at Company at Least Through 2021

May 27, 2021

May 27, 2021

WarnerMedia Chief Executive Jason Kilar said in a companywide address Thursday that he has no plans to step down this...

Palantir and DoorDash CEOs Top List of Biggest Pay Packages in 2020

June 3, 2021

June 3, 2021

Palantir Technologies Inc. PLTR -3.35% and DoorDash Inc. DASH -7.15% gave their longtime chief executives special stock awards worth hundreds...

Microsoft Discloses New Customer Hack Linked to SolarWinds Cyberattackers

June 26, 2021

June 26, 2021

Microsoft Corp. said hackers, linked by U.S. authorities to Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, installed malicious information-stealing software on one of...