WASHINGTON — A company that makes a medication increasingly touted as a promising coronavirus treatment, known as chloroquine, doubled the drug’s price in late 2019 — but says it has now cut the price in half, to its original level, in response to the pandemic.
Rising Pharmaceuticals, a New Jersey-based drug company, hiked the price of its chloroquine phosphate tablets 98% between December 2019 and January 2020, according to data provided to STAT by the publishing and analytics company Elsevier, from roughly $3.87 to $7.66 for a 250-milligram tablet.
The price hikes, however, came months before the coronavirus outbreak morphed into a global pandemic, and well before physicians and scientists came to believe chloroquine might prove an effective treatment.
In the past two weeks, Rising Pharmaceuticals slashed the price in half as interest in the drug — normally used as an antimalarial — erupted.
“Once this whole issue started to explode with regard to the pandemic, we implemented a price decrease to effectively revert back to 2015 pricing across all customers,” Ira Baeringer, the company’s chief operating officer, said in an interview. After this story’s publication, Baeringer said the company was slashing the price again, to 20% below the 2015 level.
In a chaotic press conference on Thursday, President Trump even touted the drug as a coronavirus treatment, saying the medication was “approved for prescription,” though the drug is labeled exclusively for use as an antimalarial. Stephen Hahn, the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, appeared to contradict the president almost immediately, saying any analysis of the drug’s efficacy as a coronavirus treatment should be conducted “in a setting of a clinical trial.”
Chloroquine phosphate has been manufactured as an antimalarial treatment since the late 1940s. But in the last month, it has shown some promise treating patients with the novel coronavirus and the respiratory disease it causes, known as Covid-19. Baeringer stressed that despite the newfound interest, Rising Pharmaceuticals is not marketing the drug as a Covid-19 treatment.
Baeringer said the initial price increases came after the company “made significant investments in ramping up capacity,” and were a response to the “small and rapidly declining volume in the market.”
The company first hiked the price of a 50-pill bottle of 250-milligram tablets to $383.08 in December 2019, according to the Elsevier database. Following the price reduction, the company will now charge $193.61 for the same quantity — roughly the same as its price before December.
Rising Pharmaceuticals’ price cut also comes as the drug giant Bayer announced it would donate 3 million tablets of chloroquine phosphate to the U.S. government.
The company’s price hike capped a tumultuous 2019 for the Rising Pharmaceuticals brand. In April, its parent company Aceto Pharmaceuticals sold the subsidiary for $15 million as part of a bankruptcy filing. And in early December, the previous management group agreed to pay $3 million in restitution for conspiring to fix the price of a blood pressure drug between 2014 and 2015 — part of a long-running, 44-state investigation of generic drug industry price-fixing.
Clarification: This story has been updated to reflect that the Rising Pharmaceuticals price-fixing settlement was agreed to by the brand’s previous owners. It has also been updated to reflect an additional price drop for chloroquine, announced after the story was first published.