Drastic price increase in HIV medication sparks national outrage

Daraprim, a medication which helps fight potentially life-threatening parasitic infections known as toxoplasmosis, had its price drastically changed over a twenty-four hour period. The drug saw a stunning price increase from $13.50 per pill to $750 per pill overnight in late September, a jump of more than 4,000%.

When Turing Pharmaceuticals bought the rights to Daraprim in August, it essentially had its hands on a monopoly, allowing the company to increase the price as much as they desired. The Infectious Disease Society of America has said in a letter to Turing that treating patients with Daraprim would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars a year–a price that is called “unjustifiable” and “unsustainable for the health care system.” Many also express anger because it’s hard for patients to boycott the price of a drug that they will die without. This has led Americans to request a new law that prevents unwarrantable inflation of medication.

Craig Rothenberg, Chief Communications Officer of Turing, has said the company will use the money from the sales to further research treatments for Toxoplasmosis–research that he claims has long been neglected. He also said the firm has plans to invest in marketing and education tools to raise awareness of the disease. This response is seen as unsatisfactory for many. John Carroll, the editor of Fierce Biotech, a daily newsletter about the industry, was one of the first to ask Turing chief executive, Martin Shkreli, directly to explain the move. In a fierce Twitter exchange over the weekend, Shkreli refused to provide additional information. Rather, he launched into a series of personal attacks against Carroll, calling him “irrelevant” and someone who doesn’t “think logically.”

CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals
CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals

Shkreli made appearances on TV news shows explaining his company’s position. On CBS This Morning, he explained that the drug was unprofitable at the old price. “Any company selling it would be losing money,” he said, “At this price it’s a reasonable profit, not excessive at all.” When a reporter said that the price raise appeared to be “greedy,” Shkreli said his motives were the opposite, “I can see how it looks greedy but I think there’s a lot of altruistic properties to it.” Shkreli said that’s because the company is devoted to the treatment and cure of toxoplasmosis, “With these new profits [ . . . ] we can spend all of that upside on these patients who sorely need a new drug, in my opinion.”

One possible was to prevent drastic increases in drug pricing is having government sponsored competition through regulations allowing Americans to buy prescription drugs from other countries–as long as they are manufactured in an environment that meets FDA standards. Buying prescription drugs from other countries could allow patients on Daraprim and similar drugs to spend $1 per pill on the generic versions which are sold in Europe, instead of $750 per pill.

The New York attorney general is currently looking into whether Turing Pharmaceutical’s move made the drug inaccessible, violating anti-trust regulations. In the face of public backlash, Shkreli has agreed to lower the price of the drug.

By: Tilia Lundberg

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