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Shkreli Daraprim price U-turn prompts renewed fury

Published on 26/11/15 at 02:00pm
GSK manufactures Daraprim for the UK market

Turing CEO Martin Shkreli has sparked yet more criticism, after going back on a pledge to cut the price of 62-year-old toxoplasmosis medicine Daraprim by the end of the year.

In early November, Shkreli said his company was planning modest cuts in the region of 10% and a broadening of the drug’s access programme to make it more widely available to patients.

At the time, the company released a statement, saying “since acquiring Daraprim three months ago, our top priority has been to ensure that patients who need Daraprim have ready, affordable access to it.”

The latest U-turn is the latest development in a long-running saga that began when Turing purchased the rights to the drug in the summer, before hiking the price 5000% overnight, from $13.50 per pill to $750.

As an alternative, the small biotech says it will reduce the charge to hospitals by up to 50 percent, offer the option for hospitals to stock smaller 30-pill bottles of the medicines rather than 100, and that the majority of patients' co-payments will be capped at $10 or less per month.

Nancy Retzlaff, Turing's chief commercial officer, said yesterday:  "Combined with our robust patient access programs, this is an important step in our commitment to ensure ready access to Daraprim at the lowest possible out-of-pocket cost for both hospitals and patients. We pledge that no patient needing Daraprim will ever be denied access."

However, critics have claimed that this response will not benefit patients, as insurers will be forced to make up the remainder of the cost, and will respond by increasing insurance premiums. In addition, while toxoplasmosis patients are initially treated in hospital, upon release, they will be treated at home and still be faced with the substantial costs of the pills.

Turing’s CEO, former hedge fund manager Shkreli, has maintained all along that the significant price increase is necessary to fund new research into newer alternative medicines for toxoplasmosis, due to Daraprim being outdated.

But he has become something of a hate-figure for the pharma industry in recent months, and attracted personal criticism from politicians in the US presidential election campaign- particularly Democrats Hilary Clinton and her nomination rival Bernie Sanders.

The Daraprim case has focused attention on amended policy to clamp down on rising drug prices stateside, and tighter regulation of the pharmaceutical industry has become a key issue for voters in the race for the White House in 2016.

Shkreli, 32, last week announced that he was investing in the struggling biopharma firm KaloBios, which has two promising cancer drug candidates in its pipeline. Shkreli took a 70% shareholding in the company and became CEO on November 19.

Joel Levy

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