House committee set to subpoena AbbVie over Humira pricing

By Nick Taylor

- Last updated on GMT

© YayaErnst / Getty Images
© YayaErnst / Getty Images

Related tags Humira Imbruvica AbbVie

The House Committee on Oversight and Reform plans to subpoena AbbVie over pricing of Humira and Imbruvica, alleging the company repeatedly failed to comply with requests.

The House Committee began investigating pricing practices at AbbVie and 11 other drugmakers early last year to learn more about why the cost of some products keeps going up. Since then, members of the committee have engaged with AbbVie’s CEO, Richard Gonzalez, and some of its other employees to try to access information for their investigation.

That process has proven frustrating to chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, as she explained in a memo to members of the committee to disclose plans to issue a subpoena to AbbVie.

AbbVie repeatedly failed to comply with the Committee’s requests and provided inadequate responses regarding Humira and Imbruvica. After more than 18 months, AbbVie has demonstrated its unwillingness to comply voluntarily with the Committee’s investigation​,” wrote Maloney.

Chairwoman Maloney went on to criticize the volume and quality of AbbVie’s responses to members of the committee, calling them “inconsistent with the expected recordkeeping and decision-making processes of a large multi-national corporation regarding two of its most profitable drugs​.” According to Maloney, other companies targeted by the probe have submitted far better responses.

News of the subpoena comes almost one year after the late Elijah Cummings, then the chairman of the committee, sent a third letter to AbbVie accusing the company of a “woefully inadequate​” response to requests for information.

Cummings needed to write two letters to all 12 companies targeted by the probe to get them to send the requested information. AbbVie was the only company to get a third later, reflecting Cummings’ dissatisfaction with the “external newsletters with publicly-available information and widely-distributed emails notifying AbbVie’s sales force about changes to Humira’s formulary position​” that the company shared in response to the first two requests.

The committee’s investigation has taken place against a backdrop of other assessments of AbbVie’s practices. Earlier this year, a judge ruled that AbbVie’s use of patents that are keeping Humira biosimilars off the market, long after they launched in other parts of the world, is legal.

Around the same time, the nonprofit I-MAK accused AbbVie of using a similar patent strategy to delay the arrival of off-patent rivals for Imbruvica. I-MAK calculates AbbVie’s “drip feed​” patenting has added nine years to the Imbruvica exclusivity period.

Those extra years of exclusivity could translate into significant sales. In the case of Humira, 2019 sales outside the US, where biosimilar competitors are available, fell 27% on a reported basis. US sales rose 9% to almost $15 billion.

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