Necessary drugs are the new playthings of the rich


Derek Munyon
Arts & Entertainment Editor

What do you get when you mix a 33-year-old former hedge fund manager, a 62-year-old out-of-patent drug and a complete indifference to the welfare of AIDS and cancer patients?

An over 5000 percent price increase for Daraprim, a drug that is a standard treatment for a life-threatening parasitic infection. Daraprim, which was acquired by drug company Turing Pharmaceuticals in August, went from $13.50 per pill to $750 per pill overnight.

The drug is used in the treatment of toxoplasmosis, a parasitic infection that can cause flu-like symptoms and in more extreme cases, seizures and impaired mental function. This parasite isn’t often a big deal in patients with healthy immune systems. However, people with HIV/AIDS, cancer, the extremely elderly or women that are pregnant are at risk.

The drug is also often used as a treatment for acute malaria. With all that in mind, there’s not a huge market for this drug. In fact, producing and selling the drug is fairly unprofitable.

There are only about 4,400 hospitalizations due to this parasite a year according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This is where Martin Shkreli, the Eminem quote tweeting CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, comes in. Shkreli was once a hedgefund manager and was the head of Retrophin, Inc., which was the biotechnology branch of the hedge fund MSMB Capital Management before becoming the CEO of the pharmaceutical company he’s at now.

Raising the prices of Daraprim is just another in a long line of questionable practices that Shkreli has been accused of.

In 2014, while at Retrophin, Shkreli was responsible for a price increase of the drug Thiola, which was used to treat the rare genetic disease cystinuria, which is characterized by the formation of kidney, ureter and bladder stones. He’s also been accused of manipulation U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulatory processes to manipulate stock prices in his favor, however, he’s never been officially charged.

Retrophin also sued Shkreli for his use of company funds. Ignoring all of the controversy surrounding Shkreli, the price hike, while totally unreasonable, could have been explained as best business practice. The CEO himself told CBS

News that the rise in price keeps the company from losing money on the drug and the profit made from the drug isn’t excessive. What just kills this however, is how unsympathetic Shkreli is. One Twitter user, Suzanne Mertens, questioned how Shkreli could live with him- self.

He replied, “It’s actually a great thing for society, think it through.” Another Twitter user, called zozo, asked how the CEO could sleep at night, to which he re- plied, “you know, Ambien.”

Despite all of this, Shkreli and his ma- nipulative price gouging isn’t the real problem. When attempting to justify his choice, he mentioned how new cancer treatments and high-end drugs can easily cost upwards of $100,000 a year.

There is the real problem. Potentially life-saving drugs are being priced to unfathomable levels regularly. Doxycycline, a common antibiotic, rose from $20 per bottle in 2013 to $1,849 per bottle in 2014 according to the LA Times.

Drugs for multiple sclerosis have risen in price from around $10,000 in the 1990’s to over $60,000 now according to a study from the American Academy of Neurology. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Pharmaceutical drug prices have been going up all over the board, becoming one of the most expensive aspects of the healthcare system. It has gotten so bad that physicians, who would once just prescribe the drug they thought was best, or at least the drug that pharmaceutical reps convinced them was best, are now considering drug prices.

The worst part is, nothing can really be done about this issue. The astronomical prices that these private companies charge are totally legal, despite the fact that much of the initial research is often done on the taxpayer’s dollar. Some federal attempts are being made to force pharmaceutical companies to disclose their research cots and justify the high prices, however, this is hardly enough.

One big issue standing in the way of affecting whether drugs are cheaply available to citizens in need is the fact that Medicare Part D, which is the prescription drug part of the plan and the biggest purchasers of drugs in the country, can’t negotiate prices. That’s not controlling or regulating pharmaceutical prices mind you, that’s just being able to negotiate the price in an attempt to bring it to a reasonable level that both parties can deal with.

Allowing the government to negotiate for lower drug prices not only could potentially bring down drug prices across the board, it could also save taxpayer money in these public healthcare plans. If something isn’t done to keep everything from rare hepatitis C treatments to common antibiotics from going too high in price, it could be detrimental to our country.

Not to mention a lot of people could suffer and die simply from being priced out of their treatments. Luckily, in the case of Daraprim, the general public won the day… sort of. Shkreli has caved to internet backlash and de- cided to drop the price of the drug. How much, though, is yet to be seen. It could be a 2,000% hike instead of a 5,000% hike. Chances are it’ll still be nowhere near how cheap the drug was before Turing bought it. Still, every bit helps. Perhaps if there’s a big enough public outcry, the pharmaceutical industry could get the change it needs.