Last month, the New York Times reported that the price of a 62-year old little-known drug, Daraprim (pyrimethamine), rose overnight from $18 to $750 a pill. About 100 pills are needed to treat toxoplasmosis, a disease caused by a parasite that lives inside a third of humans but can cause life-threatening infestations in people with AIDS, cancer, or other conditions that compromise the immune system. The eye-popping price increase followed Daraprim’s acquisition in August by Turing Pharmaceuticals, a small drug company founded and led by 32-year old Martin Shkreli, a former hedge fund manager. Shkreli handled the newfound press attention less than gracefully, and quickly became the face of cold-hearted greed in the pharmaceutical industry.
Since then, pundits have disparaged the ability to do what Shkreli did, presidential candidates have vowed to restrict price gouging, and Democrats in the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform requested a hearing with Shkreli. My colleagues and I at PharmedOut are fine with making an example of the young CEO – as long as we remember that Turing is one of dozens of drug companies, large and small, doing exactly the same thing.
The antibiotic tetracycline (around since 1948) and the antidepressant clomipramine (used since the 1960s) went up in price 2,200 percent and 3,600 percent, respectively, over the last few years. Another infamous case is of colchicine, a drug derived from the autumn crocus, a plant used in ancient Greece and ever since to treat gout. Available as a generic drug since the 1800s, exclusive rights for colchicine were sold to a drug company in 2009.
The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.