The medical community is denouncing an extreme price hike for Daraprim, the brand name for pyrimethamine, a drug that may be essential for some people who have AIDS or cancer.
After buying the rights for the drug from Impax Laboratories, New York-based Turing Pharmaceuticals raised its price from $13.50 to $750 per pill, a 5,500 percent increase, USA Today reports. This drug has been on the market for more than 60 years and is on the World Health Organization's List of Essential Medicines, according to RT.
Daraprim is used to treat toxoplasmosis, a parasite infection that can potentially cause life-threatening problems for babies born to women who become infected during pregnancy and for people with compromised immune systems, such as those with cancer or AIDS.
Toxoplasmosis is the second most common food-borne disease that affects patients with AIDS and cancer. Symptoms can feel similar to the flu, but the parasite can attack the brain and lead to blindness or brain damage. Up to 60 million people in the United States and 3 billion worldwide are affected by the disease.
In an open letter to Turing, the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) and HIV Medicine Association (HIVMA), have asked the company to reconsider the price increase.
“This cost is unjustifiable for the medically vulnerable patient population in need of this medication and unsustainable for the health care system,” IDSA and HIVMA said, according to RT.
Martin Shkreli, the founder and chief executive of Turing, said the company needed to raise the price to fund research on toxoplasmosis and new education programs about the disease.
“This isn't the greedy drug company trying to gouge patients, it is us trying to stay in business,” Shkreli told USA Today.
He added that many patients use the drug for less than a year and that the price was now comparable to 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 this.”
IDSA and HIVMA reportedly disagree with Shkreli's argument, citing an alleged shortage in supplies of the drug.
“The supply issues have been very significant for us,” said Wendy S. Armstrong, vice chair of HIVMA, according to RT. “We’ve been, frankly, unable to get the drug for a significant period of time."
Craig Rothenberg, the chief communication officer of Turing Pharmaceuticals, said the company has a plan to help patients who cannot afford the medication, which includes a co-pay assistance program and a system to help treat uninsured patients in financial need.