The CEO of a pharmaceuticals company who came under fire after increasing the cost of the drug Daraprim by more than 4,000 percent says the company will reduce the price.
“We’ve agreed to lower the price on Daraprim to a point that is more affordable and is able to allow the company to make a profit, but a very small profit,” Turing Pharmaceuticals founder and CEO Martin Shkreli told ABC News this evening. “We think these changes will be welcomed.”
He did not say what the lower price will be for the drug that treats a common parasite that attacks people with weakened immune systems.
Shkreli had previously said the company needed to make a profit so it can pay for research to develop a better alternative to the drug, which is generically known as pyrimethamine.
On Monday, Shkreli told the Washington Post that media reports had all overstated the price increase. The real original price, he said, was $18 per tablet, making it a more than 4,000 percent price increase with its new cost of $750.
USA Today and several other media outlets had reported that Turing raised the price of Daraprim from $13.50 to $750 per pill last month — an increase of more than 5,000 percent — soon after purchasing its rights from Impax Laboratories. The drug has been on the market since 1953.
Daraprim is used to treat toxoplasmosis, which is considered to be a leading cause of death attributed to foodborne illness in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
According to the CDC, people most likely to develop severe toxoplasmosis include infants born to newly infected mothers; people with severely weakened immune systems, such as people with AIDS; people undergoing certain types of chemotherapy; and people who recently received an organ transplant.
“We can make a better drug for this disease,” Shkreli said Monday on Bloomberg TV. “We’re spending tens of millions of dollars to make a better version of Daraprim that is more effective, less toxic — Daraprim is a very toxic drug.”
His decision to hike the price of the drug was met with overwhelming disdain on social media.
Someone will die because of this drug price hike and that's on you. Hope you never sleep another peaceful night. #Daraprim— Lisa (@Aarghyoukidding) September 21, 2015
Dr. Judith Aberg, chief of the division of infectious diseases at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital, told the New York Times the price increase could force hospitals to use “alternative therapies that may not have the same efficacy.”
“What is it that they are doing differently that has led to this dramatic increase,” she asked.
She said patients who have health insurance could have trouble affording the drug.
Insurance companies often put expensive drugs in the “specialty” category, requiring patients to pay up to thousands of dollars a year, according to USA Today.
Patricia A. Epple, CEO of the Pennsylvania Pharmacists Association, expressed concern over the increase in the cost of Daraprim in a statement Monday.
“Our members are very concerned with the dramatic increases we are seeing in many drugs and certainly question the reasons,” she said. “It is certainly troubling for pharmacies and hospitals which have to purchase the drugs; but ultimately it is at the expense and possible health and welfare of patients, that is most concerning.
“We are not sure exactly what has to happen either legally or ethically, but somehow these dramatic increases need to be addressed,” she said. “Keeping people alive and well through access to affordable medications that they need must be front and center when it comes to establishing prescription medication costs.”
Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders both weighed in on Turing's move.
Clinton posted a tweet calling the cost increase "price gouging." The tweet also said she planned to "lay out a plan to take it on" today.
Sanders sent a letter to Shkreli announcing an investigation into the cost increase for Daraprim.
Price gouging like this in the specialty drug market is outrageous. Tomorrow I'll lay out a plan to take it on. -H https://t.co/9Z0Aw7aI6h— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) September 21, 2015
News: Sanders and Cummings Investigate “Overnight” Price Increase of Life-Saving Drug. http://t.co/ZCu5vk0tEF— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) September 21, 2015
A letter from executives at the Infectious Diseases Society of America and the HIV Medicine Association urged Turing to “immediately revise the pricing strategy” for Daraprim and to “address distribution issues that are disrupting access” to the drug.
In a Sept. 18 press release, Turing acknowledged “some health care facilities have encountered challenges securing Daraprim for patients diagnosed with toxoplasmosis.”
Important information for patients and healthcare providers about DARAPRIM® (pyrimethamine) can be found here: http://t.co/uQstLE3cre— Turing Pharma (@TuringPharma) September 18, 2015
“As soon as we learned that some hospitals and clinics were having trouble accessing the product,” Nancy Retzlaff, Turing’s chief commercial officer said in the press release, “we developed an immediate corrective plan to ensure quick, efficient access for patients in need.”
The letter, which was written by Drs. Stephen B.Calderwood and Adaora Adimora and sent to Turing Sept. 8, gives an example of what it would cost “for the (Daraprim) component alone” to treat someone with toxoplasmosis. The annual cost would be $336,000 for patients who weigh less than 132 pounds and $634,500 for patients who weigh more than 132 pounds, according to the letter.
“This cost is unjustifiable for the medically vulnerable patient population in need of this medication and unsustainable for the health care system,” Calderwood, president of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, and Adimora, chair of the HIV Medicine Association, wrote.
Shkreli said the drug is so rarely used that it would have a very small impact on the health system, according to the New York Times.
“This isn’t the greedy drug company trying to gouge patients,” Shkreli told the New York Times. “It is us trying to stay in business.”
He added that many patients use Daraprim for far less than a year and that the price was now more in line with those of other drugs for rare diseases.
“This is still one of the smallest pharmaceutical products in the world,” he said. “It really doesn’t make sense to get any criticism for it.”
LGH spokeswoman Rosanne Placey said the Lancaster County hospital occasionally uses the drug for patients with toxoplasmosis.
“We also might use it occasionally for patients with pneumocystis pneumonia and for some forms of malaria,” Placey said in an email. “All (are) very rare around here.
“So we don’t anticipate any major impact in our community,” she said. “Additionally, in most cases there would be an alternative drug.”
Placey added that Lancaster General Health Pharmacy has not ordered or dispensed Daraprim in years.
In his interview with Bloomberg TV, Shkreli said patients with toxoplasmosis deserve a drug company that is better for them.
“They deserve a modern medicine that can cure toxoplasmosis quickly,” he said.
After watching the video of his explanation, do you agree with Shkreli's reasons for hiking the cost of Daraprim by more than 4,000 percent? Take our poll, and leave your comments below.