After purchasing the rights to a drug that prevents infections in people with weakened immune systems, including AIDS patients and cancer survivors undergoing chemotherapy, a pharmaceutical company has raised the price of the drug by 5,000%. Instead of paying $13.50 per pill, patients with life-threatening illnesses are now forced to pay $750 per pill.
Led by a former hedge fund manager, Turing Pharmaceuticals was founded by Martin Shkreli after his first startup biotech company, Retrophin, ousted him last year amid accusations of stock impropriety. Shortly after founding Turing Pharmaceuticals, Shkreli secured the exclusive rights to sell Daraprim (pyrimethamine), which helps prevent malaria and treats toxoplasmosis.
According to the CDC, toxoplasmosis is the second most common foodborne disease and can easily infect people whose immune systems have been weakened by AIDS, chemotherapy, or even pregnancy. Approximately 60 million people in the U.S. carry the Toxoplasma parasite. Exposure to the parasite can occur by eating undercooked meat, cooking with contaminated knives and boards, drinking unclean water, or contact with infected cat feces.
A report from the Prime Institute at the University of Minnesota found that the average cost of brand-name medications rose 13% in 2013. According to the report, new cancer drugs routinely cost over $100,000 a year, while a new hepatitis drug called Sovaldi costs $84,000 for only three months of treatment.
Instead of directly addressing the inordinate price hike, Turing Pharmaceuticals sent out a press release on Friday acknowledging “that some healthcare facilities have encountered challenges securing DARAPRIM® (pyrimethamine) for patients diagnosed with toxoplasmosis.”
“Our number one priority is to ensure that all patients diagnosed with toxoplasmosis have an efficient and affordable means to access Daraprim,” stated Turing’s Chief Commercial Officer, Nancy Retzlaff. “As soon as we learned that some hospitals and clinics were having trouble accessing the product, we developed an immediate corrective plan to ensure quick, efficient access for patients in need.”
The trouble patients have in accessing the product is due to the recent price gouge. Even patients whose insurance plans require them to cover 20% of the cost still have to pay at least $150 per pill. Nowhere in the press release does Turing Pharmaceuticals justify raising the cost of the drug by 5,000%.
Instead of displaying an ounce of compassion for patients with life-threatening diseases, pregnant mothers, and organ donor recipients, Martin Shkreli appears to be running Turing Pharmaceuticals like a reckless hedge fund manager. Besides acquiring the rights to Daraprim, Turing has also picked up a hypertension drug that Shkreli believes could treat autism. Turing is also reportedly working on a nasal spray containing oxytocin and ketamine for treating depression.