The CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals has caved under pressure and promised to reduce the price hike of a drug used to treat toxoplasmosis. Martin Shkreli encountered a great deal more outrage than he bargained for when he boosted the price of Daraprim (pyrimethamine) by over 5000 percent. The drug is essential for treating a parasitic infection in immunocompromised patients.
People with HIV/AIDS or other conditions that impact the immune system are vulnerable to the Toxoplasma gondii parasite. Cats are a primary vector for transmitting T. gondii and a surprisingly large number of people (over 60 million) harbor the parasite without even knowing it. You might be surprised to learn that you too have this parasite lurking in your body.
This bug can also be acquired from food (lamb and pork) as well as unwashed fruits and vegetables. As long as you are healthy, there’s rarely a problem. But people undergoing cancer chemotherapy, high doses of corticosteroids or immunosuppressant drugs can experience an outbreak. Without appropriate treatment, toxoplasmosis can be deadly. The CDC states: “Toxoplasmosis is considered to be a leading cause of death attributed to foodborne illness in the United States.”
The Sleeping Giant Awakes:
The American public has been surprisingly silent about escalating drug prices (brand as well as generic). Many don’t worry like they used to because their insurance company or the U.S. government picks up the tab through the VA, Medicare or Medicaid. A co-pay of $20 or even $40 doesn’t seem so bad, even if the actual medicine costs $250 or $300 for a month’s supply. Most people don’t care if the insurance industry is on the ropes because of high drug prices, though eventually those costs will be passed on to patients in the form of higher premiums.
But Turing Pharmaceuticals seems to have gone too far. Before the company bought Daraprim from Impax Laboratories a pill cost $13.50. Pricey, but affordable. After Mr. Shkreli and his associates raised the price to $750 a pill the public outrage was overwhelming.
Eventually the company decided to back down and lower the price, though we have not been told exactly what the new price will be. Doubtless, it will still be an expensive medication.
What About Other Medicines?
What has been lost during the furor over Daraprim is the outrageous cost of other medications. Generic manufacturers have been quietly boosting the drug prices of old medications that have long lost their patents.
Captopril (Capoten) was first approved by the FDA to treat high blood pressure in 1981. It was the beginning of a very successful class of medications called ACE (angiotensin converting enzyme) inhibitors. If you see “pril” in the name (benazepril, lisinopril, ramipril, etc) you can assume it is an ACE inhibitor. In 1996 captopril became available generically. This medicine used to be cheap as dirt ($0.02 per pill). According to the Chicago Tribune, the cost of captopril jumped over 3,000 percent between 2013 and 2014. One pill went up to as much as $2.04.
The antibiotic tetracycline, another fundamental generic drug, also skyrocketed in cost. According to the Chicago Tribune investigation, the price went up over 7,000 percent from $0.06 per pill to over $4 a pill between 2013 and 2014.
What About Brand Name Drug Costs?
These are just a few examples of the tremendous increases in generic drug prices that we have seen in recent years. When it comes to brand names, the problems are way worse. Americans pay outrageous prices for life-saving medicine. The leukemia drug Gleevec can cost over $100,000 a year. It saves lives that would otherwise be lost, but that price is overwhelming. In western Europe the drug costs less than a third as much. According to Reuters, the actual cost to make the drug abroad is under $200.
Are You Fed Up with High Drug Prices Yet?
Are you outraged by the 5000 percent overnight increase in the cost of Daraprim? What about other drugs? There have been calls for some sort of restraint on run-a-way drug prices. Perhaps the pharmaceutical industry will learn from this debacle and reconsider its pricing policies, especially for life-saving medications. If the public gets mad enough the industry could face some very angry politicians.