by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
The price of an important AIDS drug will rise 5,500%, from $13.50 to $750 per dose, the drug's manufacturer announced September 20.
Daraprim, the trade name for pyrimethamine, is used to combat protozoal infections usually transmitted through food. Most people can easily fight off the infections even without medications, but for people whose immune systems are compromised - HIV patients, for example - the infection could be deadly.
Experts say that no other drug can give the same results. It is on the World Health Organization's List of Essential Medicines, the most important medications needed in a basic health system.
Pharmaceutical exec Martin Shkreli, CEO of Turning Pharmaceuticals, acquired rights to manufacture the drug just this month.
'We needed to turn a profit on this drug,' Shkreli, told Bloomberg TV. 'The companies before us were actually giving it away almost.'
Because patients would use Daraprim only until the infection was wiped out, they simply wouldn't spend enough money to satisfy Shkreli. The course of treatment 'to save your life was only a $1,000,' he exclaimed in the TV interview.
'These days, modern pharmaceuticals, cancer drugs can cost $100,000 or more, whereas these drugs can cost half a million dollars. Daraprim is still underpriced relative to its peers,' he added.
Sued for defrauding investors
Shkreli began his business career as a hedge fund manager, and got into pharmaceuticals as part of a scheme to pay off legal settlements with unhappy hedge fund investors when his investment firm went bankrupt.
According to Forbes magazine, he is now being sued by former business associates for more than $65 million in damages.
In 2011, Shkreli was the manager of MSMB Capital Management, a hedge fund company catering to investors who wanted to avoid regulatory oversight. That year, he started his own biotech company, Retrophin, and began purchasing manufacturing rights to drugs for rare diseases.
He served at the helm of Retrophin until last fall, when the company's board of directors ousted him, alleging that he improperly passed off legal settlements with MSMB investors as Retrophin consulting expenses.
Retrophin filed a federal lawsuit against Shkreli in August, alleging that he created the biotech solely to provide stock as compensation to MSMB investors when the hedge fund became insolvent. The suit seeks more than $65 million in damages and a requirement that Shkreli disgorge all the compensation he received from Retrophin during the time he acted as a 'faithless servant' to it.
Turing Pharmaceuticals, the current manufacturer of Daraprim, was founded by Shkreli in February, and is not named in the suit.
Shkreli has also been investigated by police in New Jersey for threatening the family of a rival pharmaceutical exec.
According to US Uncut, Shkreli was accused of hacking the email, Facebook, and LinkedIn accounts of competitor Tim Pierotti in December 2013. Pierotti's lawyers say the IP address used to alter their client's accounts was traced directly to Shkreli.
After taking control of Pierotti's accounts, Shkreli began posting statements relating to on-going civil litigation between the two rivals.
Pierotti's lawyers also charged Shkreli with harassing Pierotti's 16-year-old son on his Facbook account, messaging the son that his father had stolen money and betrayed Shkreli. The Pierotti family blocked the account, but Pierotti's wife continued to receive harassing text messages from someone she believed to be Shkreli.
Documents filed by Pierotti's lawyers claim that Shkreli sent messages to Pierotti's wife stating things such as 'I hope to see you and your four children homeless and will do whatever I can to assure this.'
'Cost is unjustifiable'
The Infectious Diseases Society of America, the HIV Medicine Association and other health care providers wrote an open letter to Shkreli's company, urging him to reconsider.
'This cost is unjustifiable for the medically vulnerable patient population in need of this medication and unsustainable for the health care system,' the groups wrote.
Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton also got into the fray, pledging on September 21 to take action against firms hiking prices for specialty drugs.
'Price gouging like this in the specialty drug market is outrageous,' Clinton said, specifically citing Daraprim.
Clinton's rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, Senator Bernie Sanders, reiterated his pledge to replace private health insurance plans with a robust single payer system that would be better able to negotiate fair drug prices with the pharmaceutical industry.
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