Infectious disease specialists protest the massive increase in the price of Daraprim, a 62 year old drug popularly prescribed as treatment for toxoplasmosis, a life threatening parasitic infection.
Turing Pharmaceuticals, a startup operated by a former hedge fund manager, acquired the drug developed by Hayward-based Impax in August, and immediately increased the price of the $13.50 tablet to $750.
The new price will bring the annual cost of the treatment for some of the patients to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
"Under the current pricing structure, it is estimated that the annual cost of treatment for toxoplasmosis, for the pyrimethamine component alone, will be $336,000 for patients who weigh less than 60 kilograms or about 132 pounds and $634,500 for patients who weigh more than 60 kilograms," the HIV Medicine Association and the Infectious Diseases Society of America wrote to Turing. "This cost is unjustifiable for the medically vulnerable patient population in need of this medication and unsustainable for the health care system."
The drug was approved by the FDA in 1953 and is known for its generic name pyrimethamine. It is used as treatment for malaria around the world.
In the U.S, the drug is used mainly to fight toxoplasmosis, an infection caused by the Toxoplasma gondii parasite, one of the most common parasites.
The infection may cause flu-like symptoms but some of those affected do not develop symptoms. For babies born to infected mothers and those with weakened immune system though, the disease can cause serious and life-threatening problems.
Daprim is the standard first treatment for the infection along with the antibiotic sulfadiazine. Although there are other alternative treatments, their efficacy are not as widely researched.
Judith Aberg, from Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, said that increase in the drug's price could force hospitals to use other alternative treatments that may not be as efficient.
Turing's founder and chief executive Martin Shkreli, said that the drug is rarely used its impact on the health system would be minuscule.
He added that his company would use the money it will earn from the price increase to develop better treatment for toxoplasmosis that has fewer side effects.
Shkreli said that his company is not trying to gouge patients citing that the price of the drug is now more in line with other drugs used for rare diseases.
Some doctors questioned the company's claim for a need for better drugs saying that while Daraprim's side effects are potentially serious, these could be managed.
Photo: Brandon Giesbrecht | Flickr