In August, Turing Pharmaceuticals acquired Daraprim, a drug developed in the 1950s used to treat a serious parasite infection in people with weakened immune systems. Shortly afterward, the cost of a single dose of Daraprim in the United States rose from $13.50 to $750 — by over 5000 percent.
The drug costs approximately $1 to produce, according to BBC, but this does not include additional costs such as marketing and distribution, which have increased over the years. Profiting on drugs for rare diseases can be difficult since not very many people use them, even though there is a need for them — a paradox that has resulted in slower pharmaceutical research and development in recent years. Martin Shkreli, chief executive of Turing Pharmaceuticals, wished to significantly increase profits by raising the price of Daraprim.
Daraprim is typically used in tandem with other medications to treat and prevent toxoplasmosis, a serious parasite infection of the body, brain, or eye in people with HIV, according to WebMD. The drug can also be used to treat and prevent pneumonia in patients with AIDS. The pill is taken orally once or twice a day, depending on the type and severity of the infection as well as the patient’s age and response to treatment. The drug was originally developed in the 1950s and has saved lives for decades.
Raising the price of Daraprim to such exorbitant levels is not out of character for Shkreli, according to BBC. In 2011, he founded the biotech firm Retrophin, claiming to focus on medicines for rare diseases. In 2014, Shkreli was ousted under allegations of mishandling legal settlements. One year later, Retrophin filed a $65 million lawsuit against him, claiming that Shkreli only founded the company to pay off investors in his old, failed hedge fund.
According to Newsweek, Shkreli and some of his business associates have been under criminal investigation since at least January by the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York. After being notified of the investigation, Shkreli invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. His recent actions have only granted him even more notoriety, transforming him into something like a supervillain from a cartoon.
Even politicians have started weighing in. In an interview with USA Today, Hillary Clinton announced a plan to lower the price of prescription drugs, calling Daraprim’s price hike “outrageous.” Bernie Sanders wrote to Turing Pharmaceuticals as part of an investigation on drug price increases by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, asking the company questions about sales.
In response to the controversy, Shkreli has agreed to lower the price of Daraprim, though the new amount remains unknown, according to Newsweek.
“While Shkreli took a step back on [September 22], saying he planned to drop Daraprim’s price to some undisclosed amount in response to the controversy, it was too late,” said Kurt Eichenwald of Newsweek. “His infamy is indelible; he will forever be known as the man who tried to — and perhaps still will — gouge the most vulnerable. He remains as prominent a target for prosecutors as he was on [September 21]. If indicted, his name will still hit headlines, a reality that was almost impossible to imagine a week ago when he was still a relative nobody.”