HIV drug price rises 5000%


Sarah Hartzell

The price of HIV just got a lot higher.

Turing Pharmaceuticals, the start-up company that bought the rights to the drug Daraprim in August, has raised the price of the life-saving drug by 5000 percent, from $13.50 per pill to $750 per pill. Daraprim is used to treat the parasitic infection toxoplasmosis, as well as other fatal illnesses like HIV infections and malaria. Patients with insurance could still pay as much as $150 per pill.

Criticism was swift and overwhelming once the news broke. In addition to public outcry against Turing, the Infectious Diseases Society of America and the HIV Medicine Association called the price hike “unjustifiable for the medically vulnerable patient population.”

Despite healthcare still being a politically controversial subject, presidential candidates were quick to respond. On Monday morning, Hillary Clinton tweeted, “Price gouging like this in the specialty drug market is outrageous. Tomorrow I’ll lay out a plan to take it on.” Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT) and Representative Elijah Cummings (D-MD) have been vocal critics of rising drug prices and sent a letter to Turing in light of the controversy, demanding more information and calling the hike, “just the latest in a long list of skyrocketing price increases for certain critical medications.”

The face of the price increase is Martin Shkreli, former hedge fund manager and current CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals. Shkreli has presented himself as some sort of Dickensian villain in his response—which many are calling tone deaf— to the outrage over his decision. In response to critics, Shkreli maintained that the raise was good for his profits and his shareholders, with no apparent sympathy for the patients who rely on the drug, going so far as to say the hike was “not excessive at all.”

In an interview with Bloomberg News, Shkreli attempted to justify the decision by arguing that the increased profits would aid the development of a better drug than Daraprim—which has been on the market for over 60 years—and that the problem is being blown out of proportion.

“We’re the first company that really focused on this product. And I think that’s a great thing, because ultimately companies before us were actually just giving it away, almost,” Shkreli said. “The price that they were pricing it at, $13.50, you only needed less than 100 pills, so at the end of the day the price per course of treatment—to save your life!—was only $1,000.”

Daraprim is estimated to cost $1 per pill to produce. By Shkreli’s calculations, the former price would have generated a profit of $1,250 per patient and the new price will generate a profit of $74,900 per patient.

“There’s no doubt, I’m a capitalist,” Shkreli told CBS News. “I’m trying to create a big drug company, a successful drug company, a profitable drug company.”

On Twitter, Shkreli made his opinion of critics perfectly clear, via Eminem lyrics. “And it seems like the media immediately points a finger at me/So I point one back at em, but not the index or pinkie,” he tweeted Sunday evening. He also responded to criticism from John Carroll, editor of FierceBiotech, by saying, “@JohnCFierce It’s a great business decision that also benefits all of our stakeholders. I don’t expect the likes of you to process that.”

In acquiring the rights to Daraprim, Turing obtained a monopoly on the drug, as there currently is no generic form of pyrimethamine. This practice is legal in the United States under current laws.