Express Scripts, the nation's largest pharmacy benefits manager, announced that it will work in collaboration with Imprimis Pharmaceuticals, a San Diego-based drug compounder, to develop a cheaper drug treatment for a rare and potentially fatal parasitic disease, toxoplasmosis. They will cover a $1 treatment pill designed as an alternative to the $750-pill, Daraprim.
Daraprim's producer, Turing Pharmaceuticals, is selling the expensive pill exclusively through Walgreens. The company was under fire in September when its 32-year-old CEO, Martin Shkreli, hiked the price from $13.50 a pill to $750. That is around a 5,000 percent price hike since it was consumed by patients for over 60 years.
The drug is used mainly by patients suffering from Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) to fight a specific type of infection since most of them have weakened immune systems. Pregnant women and others suffering from diseases that target their immune system also benefit from this drug.
Imprimis offers a compounded oral formulation of pyrimethamine and leucovorin (a form of folic acid) for $1 per capsule for people whose pharmacy benefit is managed by Express Scripts. Daraprim (pyrimethamine), meanwhile, contains 25 mg pyrimethamine and the inactive ingredients corn and potato starch, lactose, and magnesium stearate.
Pyrimethamine is a known folic acid antagonist and it inhibits the dihydrofolate reductase of plasmodia. Hence, it blocks the biosynthesis of purines and pyrimidines, which are important for DNA synthesis and cell multiplication.
Express Scripts wanted to improve access and affordability to one important drug that is widely used not only by Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) patients but also others who would benefit from a cheaper alternative to Daraprim.
Turing Pharmaceuticals said that it is trying to cut the cost of Daraprim by as much as 50 percent and giving doctors free samples. However, medical experts say that it is still expensive and not affordable for patients.
"We believe we now have an extremely cost-effective way to provide access to a Daraprim alternative. We will share our solution with other payers to make sure all appropriate patients around the country have access to the treatment they need at the lowest possible price," Dr. Steve Miller, Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer of Express Scripts said in a press release.
"Our goal is always to put medicine within reach by making it more affordable and accessible," he added.