A pharmaceutical company says it will stop forcing patients to buy expensive blood-monitoring with its new schizophrenia drug, following a lawsuit by 23 states including Utah.

The move is expected to cut the price of Clozaril by more than half and in turn will make the drug available to up to 10 times as many patients, or 80,000 people, Sandoz Pharmaceuticals Corp. of East Hanover said this week.By mid-February, patients will be able to buy Clozaril without having to purchase monitoring that was the focus of antitrust lawsuits, Sandoz said. Instead, patients will be responsible for getting their blood monitored.

The Food and Drug Administration approved the drug in 1989 and Sandoz began marketing it with the monitoring a year ago.

The company said weekly monitoring was needed to prevent potentially fatal side effects. Critics said it made the drug too expensive for many patients.

The states sued in federal court in New York on Dec. 18, alleging that the tie-in between Sandoz and Caremark Inc. of Lincolnshire, Ill., which has an exclusive contract to provide the monitoring, violated antitrust law.

In addition to Utah, the following states sued: Minnesota, New Jersey, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

Sandoz spokesman Samuel Ostrow said the company began searching for a way to make the drug more affordable long before the lawsuits were filed. He said, however, that the current marketing arrangement does not violate antitrust law.

The drug costs about $8,944 a year with the monitoring, under which patients are checked for a reduced level of infection-fighting white blood cells. Without the monitoring, Clozaril will cost about $4,160, Sandoz said.

The marketing package will remain in place until mental hospitals or large hospitals with psychiatric units are ready to take on the responsibility of weekly testing, Ostrow said.