Multimillionaire hedge fund manager and biotech guru Martin Shkreli has been getting a lot of negative press lately, most of it well-deserved, as his firm Turing Pharmaceuticals bought the rights to an inexpensive older drug and jacked up the price up several thousand percent.
Shkreli eventually backed off under intense media and reduced his huge price increase by 50% to just 2500%, but the drug still costs $375 a dose compared to $13.50 a couple of months ago. Shkreli promised to lower the price of the drug but has backtracked since then.
Shkreli also has made waves after buying KaloBios, a drug company which was near bankruptcy, “cornering the market”, getting appointed CEO, and in the process causing the price of shares to soar several thousand percent. All of this apparently did not sit well with politicians, the general public or the movers and shakers in the pharma industry, so they decided to do something about it.
However, Shkreli has made many enemies in the process and has done little to court possible allies. Now, it seems one of the biggest “victims” of Shkreli has decided to strike back against the pharma-boy who live streams most of his life on YouTube.
Express Scripts, the largest manager of prescription drug benefits in the U.S., announced on Tuesday it has just added a $1-a-capsule alternative to the anti-parasitic treatment Daraprim, which costs $750/$375 a pill after Turing Pharmaceuticals raised the price from $13.50 earlier this year. Ironically, the company, which many dislike for its drug pricing, looks like a hero to many since it is “taking on” Shkreli.
How hated is Martin Shkreli? He can make a PBM look like the good guy.
— Adam Feuerstein (@adamfeuerstein) December 1, 2015
More on move to undercut Turing’s Daraprim with $1 alternative
Express Scripts Holding noted in its statement that it has signed a deal with Imprimis Pharmaceuticals, a San Diego-based firm that produces compounded drugs. Imprimis recently began making a medicine for around $1 a capsule that includes the active ingredient in Daraprim (pyrimethamine) and a vitamin called leucovorin that is typically used with Daraprim.
The initial announcement by Turing / Shkreli that Daraprim, a 50-tear-old drug no longer under patent protection, would sell for $750 a pill, led to severe criticism politicians, doctors and health insurers. The good news is that Express Scripts doesn’t have to wait for an FDA-approved competitor to Daraprim to come to market at a lower cost because of the new compounded medication.
Healthcare industry experts highlight that the decision to use a compounded drug could lead to millions of dollars a year in savings compared to the use of Daraprim despite the small number of patients, because patients often take the medication for several months.
According to Imprimis CEO Mark Baum, Imprimis is buying the main ingredient, pyrimethamine, from FDA-registered and -inspected manufacturers, and compound the inexpensive replacement for Daraprim in FDA-inspected facilities.
Daraprim is the most effective treatment available for toxoplasmosis, a life-threatening infection sometimes seen in HIV patients, pregnant women and those with weak immune systems.
Statement from Express Scripts
It boiled down to the fact that the $750-a-pill price for Daraprim “wasn’t acceptable,” Steve Miller, chief medical officer for Express Scripts, noted in an interview on Monday. The use of a compounded drug is “a simple, elegant solution that gets desperate patients the drugs they need at an affordable price.” Miller said, also noting that since Daraprim isn’t needed in large quantities, manufacturer Imprimis should not have any problem supplying the quantities required.
“We’ve made it very simple for doctors and patients to access this lifesaving medicine at a reduced cost,” Miller continued. He also noted that Express Scripts would probably start processing prescriptions for the new pill by the end of the week.
Statement from Turing Pharmaceuticals
“In addition to being potentially unsafe and ineffective, the compounded product is unnecessary. Turing is committed to ensuring access to patients who need Daraprim and has implemented a number of patient assistance programs that can limit a patient’s out-of-pocket payment for Darapim to $10 per prescription,” Nancy Retzlaff, Turing’s chief commercial officer, commented in a statement following the announcement from Express Scripts.