- Bloomberg TV screenshot
Turing Pharmaceuticals CEO Martin Shkreli has been under fire since Sunday for raising a 62-year-old drug’s price from $13.50 to $750 per pill.
And he hasn’t stayed quiet.
Turing, a pharmaceutical startup that launched in February, acquired the US marketing rights to the parasitic-infection-fighting drug Daraprim in August.
Almost immediately, Turing jacked up the price of the drug, which is used to prevent malaria and treat toxoplasmosis, a parasitic infection that’s dangerous for pregnant women’s unborn children and for people with weakened immune systems, such as those with AIDS and patients undergoing chemotherapy.
On Tuesday night, the chief executive officer announced that his company would roll back the increase in price, though he didn’t say what the new price might be.
The price hike first drew the attention of medical associations earlier this month and was the focus of a New York Times article published earlier this week. On Twitter Monday, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton responded to the Times article:
Price gouging like this in the specialty drug market is outrageous. Tomorrow I’ll lay out a plan to take it on. -H https://t.co/9Z0Aw7aI6h
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) September 21, 2015
And on Tuesday, at a speech in Des Moines, Iowa, she did just that. Additionally, she directly called out Shkreli’s recent activities, saying, “It’s price-gouging pure and simple.”
The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the trade group that represents the pharmaceutical industry in the US, isn’t sticking by Turing’s side either – though a Turing spokesman recently told Bloomberg that PhRMA “should check their membership roster”:
— PhRMA (@PhRMA) September 22, 2015
Yet Shkreli remained steadfast, at least on Twitter and during several recent talk-show appearances.
“If there was a company that was selling an Aston Martin at the price of a bicycle, and we buy that company and we ask to charge Toyota prices, I don’t think that that should be a crime.”
Shkreli told CBS This Morning on Tuesday that the reason he drove up the price was to make the company profitable.
“This drug was doing $5 million in revenue,” he continued. “And I don’t think you can find a drug company on this planet that can make money on $5 million in revenue. Most costs are much higher than that.”
His argument is that it costs a lot to keep a drug company up and running. It’s not just how much money they’re spending on researching and developing new treatments – it’s also operating costs, marketing expenses, access plans, education efforts, etc.
The difference here is that most companies stick to raising money from investors the first few years before they bring a new drug to market.
“Half of our drug we give away for $1. So I think that shows our commitment to patients,” he said.
Shkreli argues that he’ll be giving away most of his product for close to nothing. He told Bloomberg TV on Monday that he plans to expand the free-drug program and eliminate copays for people who have trouble affording the treatment.
“We will never deny someone treatment for their inability to pay,” he said.
“They don’t deserve a drug that’s 70 years old. They deserve a modern medicine that can cure toxoplasmosis quickly,” he added.
Daraprim, which was first approved by the US Food and Drug Administration in 1953, has been successful in curing toxoplasmosis for more than 60 years. But Shkreli told Bloomberg TV that it’s not a perfect drug, calling it “a very toxic drug.” His idea is to price Daraprim high so his company has the resources to develop new drugs.