Pharma bro Martin Shkreli will soon get the chance to explain his universally reviled decision to jack up the price of Turing Pharmaceutical’s HIV/Cancer treating drug Darapim from $13.50 to $750.
Shkreli has said the drug was “still underpriced, relative to its peers” and will get to expand on that pronouncement to the U.S. Senate, which has asked the 32-year-old Turing CEO to bust open his company’s books and show his work as part of an investigation into price gouging.
The letter from U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri), of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, asks Turing to turn over any analysis done related to price of the drug, historical financial data including but not limited to losses and profits on Daraprim, how Turing reached its price for each country the drug is sold in, and Turing’s total expenses for acquiring the drug.
The senators write:
“In particular, the Committee wishes to learn more about Turing Pharmaceuticals recent acquisition of the rights to sell Daraprim, a drug used to treat and prevent infections, from Impax Laboratories and Turing’s subsequent decision to increase the price of Daraprim from $13.50 per tablet to $750.00.”
As of late, Turing’s Twitter account has been frequently updated with posts urging people who are “experiencing problems with affordability go to http://www.daraprimdirect.com & call 1-800-222-4991.”
Daraprim is used to treat the parasitic infection toxoplasmosis, transmittable via contaminated food, water, and utensils. It’s a potentially fatal infection for anyone, but especially AIDS and cancer patients with their weakened immune systems. The drug’s been around for roughly 62 years, but few who hadn’t been prescribed it knew its name until former hedge fund manager Shkreli became the most hated man in American medicine when he announced his company had acquired the drug and would be increasing the price. He immediately backed down in the face of public outrage promising the cost would be lowered — finally committing to a new amount Tuesday when Turing said they’d shave off an unsubstantial 10 percent. Meanwhile, San Francisco’s Imprimis Pharmaceuticals are offering an alternative drug for $1.
The bipartisan committee investigation will dig into exactly how several pharmaceutical companies are calculating drug prices — similar letters to Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc. and Retrophin Inc. has already caused stock in both those companies to tumble $4.05 and $16.45 respectively. Turing is privately held, as is Rodelis Therapeutics, which also received an information request.
“The sudden, aggressive price hikes for a variety of drugs used widely for decades affect patients and health care providers and the overall cost of health care. These substantial increases have the potential to inflate the cost of health care for Americans, especially our seniors, by hundreds of millions of dollars each year,” Collins writes.
Whether the findings could result in any actual price gouging charges against any of the scrutinized companies, we’ll just have to wait and see. But with drug hikes estimated to cost the overall healthcare system hundreds of millions — with costs especially harmful for the elderly — we can dream.
Meanwhile, you can watch Shkreli right now — he’s streaming his work on YouTube.