Social media, medical fraternity and healthcare organizations are aghast with Turing Pharmaceuticals’ decision to increase the price of a 62-year-old generic drug, used to treat a life-threatening parasitic infection, drastically from $13.50 per pill to $750 per pill.
Daraprim is used to treat toxoplasmosis, a dangerous infection that can be fatal when it affects babies born to mothers who have become infected or adults whose immune systems are critically compromised like AIDS or cancer patients. It costs roughly $1 to produce one tablet of Daraprim. After the drastic hike, the average cost of treatment for patients rises from about $1,130 to $63,000. For certain patients, the cost can go as high as $634,000.
Martin Shkreli, 32, founder and CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, purchased the rights to Daraprim in August for $55 million. In his defence, Shkreli said he hiked up the price of the pill because Turing ‘needed to turn a profit on the drug’ and that it’s a reasonable profit, not excessive at all.
“The company’s before us were actually just giving it away. At the end of the day the price per course of treatment to save your life was only a thousand dollars and we know that these days Mark Pharmaceuticals cancer drugs cost $100,000 or more, a rare disease drugs cost half a million dollars. At $750 per tablet, Daraprim is still underpriced.
“If you can’t afford the drug, we will give it away totally for free; especially if a patient is in need or doesn’t have an income… It’s an impediment [as it intersects with their stated objective to make money off Daraprim] but at the same time we will never deny someone treatment for their inability to pay.
“We’re spending tens of millions of dollars to make a better version of Daraprim that is more effective, less toxic… We know that there is a better way to treat this disease [toxoplasmosis]…So we will make money off Daraprim, put the profit into alternative research, and develop a modern medicine that can cure toxoplasmosis quickly,” he told Bloomberg.
While he found some support on Twitter, Shkreli was mostly criticized for his inhumane, inconsiderate and controversial move.
— Jason Stutman (@JasonStutman) September 22, 2015
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Oncologist and CBS News medical contributor Dr. David Agus too disagreed with Shkreli’s business model. “Patients shouldn’t be taxed and charged for future research and development. Patients should pay for the drug they’re getting and what they need in the situation that they are. It’s predatory practice and it’s inappropriate. Right now it’s out of control, and so we as a country, as a government, as individuals, as doctors all have to get together and say, we need to make pricing appropriate,” Agus said.
In an open letter to Turing, ISDA and HIVMA urged the company to rethink the new pricing structure for the generic medicine. “This cost is unjustifiable for the medically vulnerable patient population in need of this medication and unsustainable for the health care system,” they wrote.
Is Martin Shkreli everything wrong with money, medicine and politics in America? Shkreli told The New York Times that his company shouldn’t be facing the backlash. “This isn’t the greedy drug company trying to gouge patients, it is us trying to stay in business. This is still one of the smallest pharmaceutical products in the world. It really doesn’t make sense to get any criticism for this,” he explained.
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