Patients, infectious disease medical professionals, and the general public have been protesting for three straight days against an unprecedented price surge of a drug from $13.50 per pill to $750.00 per pill. And rightfully so: Patients who use the 62-year-old medication Daraprim® (pyrimethamine), to treat their weakened immune systems – a condition caused by such illnesses as malaria, AIDS, and even some cancers – are now going from paying hundreds of dollars per year in prescription costs to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Who is at the center of this disturbing price surge? Former Founder and CEO of MSMB Capital, a New York-based hedge fund, Martin Shkreli, a 32-year-old “boy genius” with a reputation for being both “brash and brilliant” in many of his business deals. In 2014, after being urged to step down from MSMB Capital by his own company’s board, Shkreli founded Turing Pharmaceuticals. In one of the company’s first major deals, Shkreli bought the popular malaria medication Daraprim from drug-manufacturer Impax for $55 Million. Earlier this month, Shkreli raised the price of the drug, citing its unprofitability at its old per-pill price.
What This Means for Patients
What makes this move so significant is that the gigantic price hike of the drug leaves patients with few alternative choices but to pay up or to try using an alternative therapy that may not work. In his justification, Shkreli claimed that the extra cash netted by the price surge would be used to fund research to create a better, more effective drug to be used to fight infectious diseases. But what was left out of Shkreli’s statement was that his decision to raise the price has essentially cornered the already niche market, and abandoned particular patients and their health concerns altogether.
The general public is extremely concerned that this is only one of many similar moves to be made by Turing Pharmaceuticals. Earlier in September, the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) and the HIV Medicine Association (HIVMA) teamed up to write a joint letter to Turing. In their letter, they called the price hike of Daraprim “unjustifiable for the medically vulnerable” and “unsustainable for the health care system.”
The Horrifying Trend across the Pharmaceutical Industry
This week’s cost increase of Daraprim is but one move in a series of questionable, unjust, and unwarranted maneuvers made by large pharmaceutical corporations that leave patients and doctors with little options. At the heart of this matter lies a very questionable ethical motive, one which demonstrates modern-era corporate greed and its keystone decree to always put profits before people. It’s no surprise that people are up in arms when unregulated corporate power can arbitrarily overnight raise the price of a single pill 5000% and make the drug virtually unaffordable for individuals, private insurers, and federal health programs that are not eligible for price breaks, such as Medicaid.
With fewer options available to patients who need certain medications to combat life-threatening conditions, what precedent do moves like Shkreli’s set for the market – and what example does such a move echo for the ethos of a capitalistic American society at large? According to Dr. Judith Aberg, Professor of Medicine at the University of Mount Sinai, this most recent price increase will leave patients and doctors with little choice but to “try alternative therapies that might not have the same efficacy.”
With disturbing price hikes to important pharmaceuticals, patients are the ones who are left to face the burden. It is our nation’s sick and vulnerable who are the ones most negatively impacted by corporate decisions such as these.
In the court of public opinion versus Turing Pharmaceuticals CEO Martin Shkreli, it appears as if the public may have achieved a minor victory today – at least for now. Earlier this morning, Shkreli, in an interview with NBC, reported that, in direct response to the overwhelming outrage voiced by the public, Turning Pharmaceuticals will be lowering the price of Daraprim. “I think it makes sense to lower the price in response to the anger felt by people,” Shkreli stated. In spite of his statements, it is still unclear at this point as to what the new price of the drug will be – and until Shkreli’s changes are activated, Daraprim remains an extremely costly drug, one that is purchasable at the price of $750 per pill.