DARAPRIM – where’s there pain, there’s wealth

Martin Shkreli, a biotech entrepreneur (pictured), bought the American marketing rights to Daraprim, a drug that treats a parasitic infection.  His company, Turing Pharmaceuticals, said it would increase the price of Daraprim in America from $13.50 a pill to $750. On September 22nd, he promised to rethink the price rise,but defended his move, saying that Turing plans to invest in research and development to improve the 62-year-old drug. Doctors expressed scepticism. Some said they needed not a better drug but a cheaper one. The medicine is used to treat toxoplasmosis, an infection that is particularly dangerous to people with weakened immune systems, such as those with AIDS and some cancer patients.

The patent for Daraprim expired long ago and in theory there is nothing to stop another firm producing and selling it under its generic name, pyrimethamine.

In  Britain, Daraprim is sold by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), at a far lower cost of around $20 for 30 pills. GSK sold the rights to market Daraprim in America in 2010 and those rights changed hands again recently, with Turing the buyer.

But Turing is not the only company to have bought the rights to older drugs and raised their prices. Valeant of Canada sharply raised the cost of two heart drugs after acquiring them this year. Horizon Pharma increased the price of a pain-relief tablet, Vimovo, by 597% after buying the rights from AstraZeneca in 2013. Since 2008 the price of all branded drugs (including both patent-protected ones and those whose patents have expired) has risen by 127% in America, compared with an 11% rise in the consumer-price index, reckons Express Scripts, which manages medicines’ costs on behalf of employers and health insurers.

Turing promises to waive the cost of its pills for people who have no health cover, but the move could impose a big price rise on insurers, hospitals and government health schemes. The 13.1% increase in prescription-drug spending in 2014 is already leading to higher premiums for health cover.

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