Backlash leads to Turing climbdown on Daraprim pricing


A drugmaker thrust under the spotlight for raising the price of a treatment for a parasitic infection by 5,000 per cent has pledged to reduce it, but it is not saying yet by how much.

Turing Pharmaceuticals acquired rights to Daraprim (pyrimethamine) for toxoplasmosis – an infection that afflicts patients with compromised immune systems – from Impax Laboratories for $55 million in August and promptly increased its price from $13.50 per pill to $750.

The company has a monopoly on the drug as Daraprim is the only FDA-approved treatment for toxoplasmosis, used in combination with a sulfonamide and leucovorin.

Any hope that the increase might slip by under the radar vanished when the New York Times published an article on price gouging that mentioned the drug, which was subsequently tweeted by US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to her 4.3 million followers.

Turing and its chief executive Martin Shkreli argued that the price hike would allow it to invest in education and earlier diagnosis, ways to improve compliance and research into new toxoplasmosis treatments.

This did little to mitigate widespread vilification of the move, however, and yesterday Shkreli told ABC News that the company had "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."

It has also emerged that earlier this month the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) and the HIV Medicine Association (HIVMA) sent a letter to Turing urging it to think again on the pricing and also "address distribution issues that are disrupting access to this generic medication used in the prevention and treatment of opportunistic infections."

Under the current pricing structure, it is estimated that the annual cost of treatment for pyrimethamine will be between $336,000 and $634,500, depending on the weight of the patient, they said.

The outrage generated by the move has re-focused attention on medicines pricing in the US, with Clinton unveiling a plan at a speech in Iowa in which she pledged to leverage the buying power of Medicare to bargain down prices, force pharma companies to reinvest their profits into research and allow drug imports from other countries.

"We're going to add on to the good work that was done by the Affordable Care Act," said Clinton, adding that, if elected, she would also cap out-of-pocket expenses for Americans with chronic health issues at $250 per month. She welcomed the news that Turing had agreed to lower the price.

Meanwhile, US drug industry association the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) has attempted to distance itself from the affair, tweeting that Turing "does not represent the values of PhRMA member companies."

That, too, attracted criticism, however, with the tweet prompting a number of responses slamming the industry for charging excessive prices for medicines.

The attention generated by the case resulted in a fall in share prices in the US biopharma sector, with companies making high-cost speciality medicines, such as Biogen, Horizon Pharma and Valeant, particularly hard hit.

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Andrew McConaghie

23 September, 2015