Two months after causing an uproar, Martin Shkreli’s Turing Pharmaceuticals has finally cut the price of its lifesaving Daraprim medicine by up to 50 percent for hospitals. The move means that many hospitals will pay $375 for the anti-infective pill, still significantly higher than the $13.55 price tag before the company bought the rights to the drug in August.
Daraprim treats a rare parasitic infection known as toxoplasmosis, which can be fatal, especially for people with AIDS or who have weakened immune systems.
For weeks, Shkreli had promised to lower the drug’s price but never disclosed how or when this would occur. In the interim, he became a poster child for corporate greed, an image that he further burnished after unleashing a defiant stream of insults on social media in response to criticism.
The dramatic price increase triggered a fresh round of scrutiny of prescription drug costs and quickly spilled over into the presidential election campaign. Hillary Clinton accused Shkreli of “price gouging.” Also, Bernie Sanders rejected a donation from Shkreli made in an attempt to get a meeting with the Vermont senator. Meanwhile, the New York Attorney General is exploring whether Turing violated antitrust law after the company took steps to thwart generic competition.
News of the discount did not mollify all of Shkreli’s critics. The discount is “inadequate and leaves this lifesaving medication priced 2,500 [percent] higher than it was just five months ago,” said Dr. Carlos del Rio, chair of the HIV Medicine Association, which along with the Infectious Diseases Society of America publicized the price hike to Daraprim in September.
“The proposed new strategy also fails to address that patients with toxoplasmosis rely on access to this medication for up to 12 months, and a majority of that time is as an outpatient,” del Rio added. “While Turing continues to promise that all patients who need Daraprim have access to it, physicians will need to continue looking for alternative, less expensive therapies for their patients with toxoplasmosis.”
Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, an advocacy group, expressed a similar sentiment. “His desire to turn a profit at any cost and brazen disregard for the well-being of the most vulnerable patients — including people with HIV and pregnant women — is appalling and contemptible,” he said in a statement after news of the discount was leaked last week.
Insurers will continue to pick up the tab for patients after they leave a hospital. However, Turing said it will help keep out-of-pocket costs for patients to no more than $10 per prescription if they use a company copay card. The drug maker also said it offers a patient-assistance program. And hospital discounts will vary depending upon the size of orders.
In touting the discounts, Turing argued that most Daraprim sales are generated by Medicaid, as well as hospitals that participate in a federal program known as 340B that requires drug makers to offer discounts on certain drugs. Turing maintains some state AIDS Drug Assistance Programs can obtain Daraprim this way. Murray Penner, who heads the National Alliance of State & Territorial AIDS Directors, said other state ADAPs are talking to the company.