ales of a drug manufactured by Turing Pharmaceuticals dropped precipitously after its former CEO, Martin Shkreli, oversaw a dramatic price hike, a US senator said Thursday during a hearing focused on prescription drug prices.
Turing acquired Daraprim, an anti-parasitic drug, in August 2015. The company soon increased the price from $13.50 per pill to $750, drawing overwhelming public scorn and congressional scrutiny. Then, according to Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri, sales slowed to nearly nothing.
The number of pills sold dropped from 25,500 in August to 600 pills in December 2015, she said during a Senate Special Committee on Aging hearing that brought former and current Turing executives before the panel.
“How are you doing reaching patients with this astronomical price increase?” McCaskill asked Turing board chairman Ronald Tilles, who took over as interim CEO after Shkreli resigned in December.
“How does that board feel about that?” she repeated, going back over the numbers. “How’s this price increase working out for you?”
The following afternoon, on Twitter, Turing disputed McCaskill’s figures.
“Data presented at Senate hearing is understated,” the company wrote in reply to Forbes reporter Matthew Herper. “Daraprim is sold by specialty distributors, which do not report to IMS.”
McCaskill had cited IMS data during the hearing. Her office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Turing’s tweet.
During the hearing, Tilles cited unspecified “transitional issues” and said more than once that he couldn’t comment on sales that preceded Turing’s acquisition of the drug from Impax Laboratories.
“I’m not sure in terms of why the sales numbers were different,” Tilles said. “I don’t believe it was just because of the price.”
Shkreli, who has since been indicted for securities fraud unrelated to his leadership at Turing, wasn’t present at Thursday’s hearing — but his specter hung over the proceedings. He declined to comment when reached through his Twitter account.
Senator Susan Collins of Maine questioned Howard Dorfman, former senior vice president and general counsel at Turing, about the company’s internal deliberations before raising Daraprim’s price.
The drug did not fit the “classic model” that usually justified price increases, Dorfman said — which would primarily be to cover extraordinary costs of research and development. Tilles had nodded affirmatively a few minutes earlier when Collins said that Turing had conducted no research regarding the drug.
Dorfman and others expressed those concerns to Shkreli, he said. Collins asked how Shkreli reacted to those objections.
“He told me he was the most knowledgeable person with regard to this business model, that I was seriously misinformed with regard to my concerns,” Dorfman said. Shkreli, he continued, “basically said that no one cares about price increases.”
Dorfman told the committee that he was fired two or three weeks after opposing the Daraprim price increase.
This story was updated with a response from Turing.