The “Jerk of the Year” award goes to Martin Shkreli, a hedge fund trader based out of New York City. Shkreli heads the firm Turing Pharmaceuticals, also based in New York City, and the company just acquired the rights to a huge product. Daraprim, also known as pyrimethamine, is a drug used to treat AIDS and other immune system disorders. It treats toxoplasmosis, or a build up to the toxic viral “gunk” that happens when your entire body is fighting itself. Prior to this acquisition, the pill sold for about $13.50 a pop. Thanks to Shkreli, the pill is now sold at $750 apiece, nearly 5,000% more than before.
The Infectious Diseases Society of America and the HIV Medicine association sent Martin Shrekli a letter, letting him know that the price increase would put very ill patient’s lives on the line. The groups begged him to lower the prices, and distribute the medication fairly to those who need the drugs. The drug is also used to treat malaria, and has been patented since 1953. When GlaxoSmithKline sold the rights in 2010 to CorePharma, they could not have known that CorePharma would be acquired by Impax Laboratories, or that Impax would then sell the rights to this life-saving drug to Turing and its head, Martin Shkreli. This illustrates how far down the rabbit hole the pharmaceutical industry has fallen; using drugs solely for profit rather than public health.
But before we all grab our torches, let’s let Martin Shkreli defend himself. Or better yet, let’s let a Turig spokesman speak for him. Craig Rothenberg, the poor messenger, announced to the press that the company was currently working with hospitals and care providers to negotiate insurance and coverage. He also wanted to make the point that the pills would be free of charge to uninsured patients. Daraprim’s price, Turig says, will help fund necessary research for toxoplasmosis rather than just maintaining the status quo. In late September, Mr. Shkreli finally came out of hiding, and the told press during an interview that Daraprim was still “under-priced compared to its peers.” OK, so maybe go ahead and grab those torches.
Sadly, this is not the first example of the pharmacy industry exploiting the demand for a product. In fact, it’s often the norm rather than the exception. Examples include doxycycline, a common antibiotic that could be purchased for about $20 a bottle in previous years. After a number of patent changes, the drug was increased to over $1,300 per bottle. The sale of drug patents and the acquisition of companies changes the game for many products, but it affects the people who use them the most. If a person cannot afford their life-saving medication, they’re not going to purchase it. The increase poses a risk for public health and decreased success in the healthcare field. Many believe the key is regulating the industry more, but the pharmaceutical companies often lobby with governments and lawmakers, making it difficult to make a real impact.