In a move that reflects just how powerful viral news can be, a pharmaceutical company is now re-lowering the price of a drug used to treat a common parasitic infection. The 5,000-percent price increase is gone, but the manufacturer, Turing Pharmaceuticals, has not updated the official price tag.
In case you’ve missed the news, here’s the background: A few weeks ago, a startup called Turing Pharmaceuticals bought a drug developed about 60 years ago to treat toxoplasmosis. The drug, called Daraprim, used to cost about $13.50 per pill. As soon as Turing bought the drug, the price shot up to $750 per pill. Health care officials balked, sending letters that complained Turing was denying crucial care to vulnerable populations.
You might be familiar with toxoplasmosis because of its, shall we say, street name: crazy cat-lady syndrome. The infection is caused by a parasite that is found in animal feces, including that of cats. Toxoplasmosis can be very serious or even fatal for babies whose mothers were infected during pregnancy, which is why pregnant women who own cats get to pass on litterbox duty for 9 months. But it also afflicts people with weakened immune systems, like some cancer patients and, notably, AIDS patients. Daraprim is also used to treat malaria in some cases, too, according to the New York Times.
Why ratchet up the price of a generations-old drug? Turing Pharmaceuticals’ 32-year-old CEO, former hedge fund manager Martin Shkreli, said it will help offset the cost of research and development into new and better drugs. But that wasn’t a sufficient answer for most people who read news coverage of the rate hike. Even the 2016 presidential contenders weighed in, with Hillary Clinton calling for a new plan to fight rising drug prices. Tuesday evening, Shkreli seemed to back off.
According to NBC’s report, “the price will drop to a level where Turing will break even or make a ‘small profit,’ Shkreli said.” He had defended the decision to raise the price by saying no patients would lose access to the drug.
We’re still learning more, so stay tuned for further updates.