Patients who require Daraprim could have more difficulty obtaining the drug after the price rose from $13.50 per pill to $750 overnight. Martin Shkreli, the CEO of Turing Pharmacuticals, has been unapologetic about drastically increasing the price of a 62-year-old drug. According to Shkreli, Daraprim was not priced appropriately when his start-up company bought rights to the drug for $55 million in August.
Approved by the F.D.A. in 1953, Daraprim is used to treat a parasitic infection called toxoplasmosis that can be life threatening for infants and adults with compromised immune systems. Patients who become infected by toxoplasmosis are usually given Daraprim along with the antibiotic sulfadiazine. Many doctors say that Daraprim is the only acceptable treatment for toxoplasmosis, because research about the efficacy of alternative treatments is inconclusive.
Just a few years ago, GlaxoSmithKline was selling Daraprim, which can also be used to treat Malaria, for $1 per pill. After the drug was sold to CorePharma in 2010, the price and profits steadily increased as the number of prescriptions went down. Since Turing bought the drug and promptly raised the price to $750 per pill, it is unclear how many patients will be able to continue filling their prescriptions. The price gouge could result in some hospitals being forced to use less effective treatments. A doctor at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta said that Daraprim has been unavailable to the patients there for a few months.
Many of the patients infected with toxoplasmosis are patients who are already suffering from life-threatening conditions like cancer and AIDS. For these vulnerable patients, cutting off access to effective treatments for secondary conditions could be deadly. In a joint letter to Turing, the HIV Medicine Association and the Infectious Diseases Society of America called the Daraprim price increase “unsustainable for the health care system” and “unjustifiable for the medically vulnerable patient population.”
Although Turing Pharmaceuticals has received a lot of public criticism for increasing the price of Daraprim, the business decision is by no means unique in the world of pharmaceutical drug sales. Favoring profits over patients, more and more pharmaceutical companies are jacking up prices for so-called “specialty drugs.” The business strategy involves purchasing an old drug that is used to treat a relatively rare condition and then setting a new exorbitant price which patients, hospitals and insurers will be forced to pay.
Between October 2013 and April 2014, an antibiotic called doxycycline went from $20 per bottle to $1,849 per bottle. A company called Rodelis Therapeutics recently acquired a drug called cycloserine and then made the decision to increase the price for 30 pills of the tuberculosis drug from $500 to $10,800. Another company called Valeant Pharmaceuticals recently raised the prices of two drugs that it acquired by 525 percent and 212 percent, a move that is currently being investigated by two Congressmen.
While pharmaceutical companies in the U.S. raise prices for vital treatments, patients have more incentive than ever to look for alternative treatments and ways to get cheaper prescriptions. Many of the drugs that are manufactured in countries like Canada and the United Kingdom are just as safe and effective as their U.S. counterparts and available for a fraction of the price. By using a prescription drug referral service to import prescription drugs from other western countries, patients in the U.S. won’t be at the mercy of pharmaceutical price gouging.