The Business of Medicine: 5,000% Price Increase in AIDS Drug Daraprim Sparks Outrage

Photo Courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org

Photo Courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org

By Taylor Randell, Contributing Writer

Over the past two months outrage and controversy have been associated with Martin Shkreli, as a pharmaceutical company he owns raised the cost of a life saving drug by 5,000% overnight. Turing Pharmaceuticals bought the exclusive rights to Daraprim (generically known as pyrimethamine), a drug used to treat patients with weakened immune systems, and raised its price from $13.50 per pill to an astounding $750 per pill.

Daraprim fights against toxoplasmosis, a parasitic disease thought to be carried by approximately 60 million people in the United States. Individuals suffering from AIDS, undergoing chemotherapy, who are pregnant, or generally experiencing lowered immune function are highly susceptible to toxoplasmosis infection, and currently about 2,000 Americans use Daraprim to treat toxoplasmosis annually.

Since the price increase in August, a joint letter from the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) and the HIV Medicine Association stated that hospitals and pharmacies are no longer able to stock Daraprim due the drastic increase in price.

The cost of treatment for one year is estimated to be anywhere from $336,000- $634,500, depending on the weight of the patient. This same statement described the price increase as “unjustifiable for the medically vulnerable patient population.”

Defendants of the raise in cost note that health insurance will continue to cover Daraprim at this higher rate, and Turing Pharmaceuticals has said that it has plans to donate the drug to those who cannot afford it, or create payment-assistant programs.

However, this does not address the strain this may cause on society at large, as insurance companies are likely to make up the difference by raising their rates, and Medicare and Medicaid fund this drug, and thus must find a way to support this new increase in price.

The patent on Daraprim has timed out of its “manufacturing exclusivity,” meaning other companies can create generic versions of the drug. However, because this drug effects a relatively small number of people other companies may decide the drug is not lucrative enough to become involved, meaning Daraprim will likely remain without competition.

Although Shkreli has defended this price increase, stating that the increase in price allows for the company to make a profit and support funding for more intensive research on toxoplasmosis, as of late September the company has reluctantly agreed to lower the price of the drug (to a yet to be determined amount) in response to the overwhelming criticism from the public.

Shkreli told ABC News “We’ve agreed to lower the prices 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.”

Although the raise in the price of Daraprim was entirely legal, the public is concerned with the moral implications of such a strictly business driven decision in the pharmaceutical world, a concern that is sure to be retained despite the eventual forced reduction in price.

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