Firm That Hiked HIV Drug Price 4000 Percent Is Now Being Investigated

A firm that put a more-than-4000 percent price hike on a generic drug used to treat parasitic infections in people with HIV/AIDS has faced a huge backlash and is now also looking at an anti-trust investigation. Here’s what you need to know.

The Drug Price Increase That Sparked Global Controversy

The controversy began in August when Turing Pharmaceuticals, a start-up run by former hedge fund manager Martin Shkreli, acquired the antimalarial drug known as Daraprim, which is commonly used to treat Toxoplasma gondii infections. The drug can be given to a wide range of patients, however it is particularly useful for treating people who are HIV-positive or have certain cancers, as well as some pregnant women. 

Drug companies acquire new drugs all the time, so this wasn’t that remarkable. However, what happened next became highly controversial. In September, Turing Pharmaceuticals raised the price on the drug by over 4000 percent, going from $13.50 a tablet to $750. Unfortunately, this kind of price hike isn’t a one off in the pharmaceutical industry, but it does seem to have hit a nerve. That’s likely because historically drug companies have price-gouged people with HIV/AIDS. As another example, pharmaceutical company Gilead was challenged by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation in 2013 for putting a yearly wholesale price (WAC) of $28,500 per U.S. patient for Stribild, a key HIV drug, while charging only $16,600 in Canada.

Returning to Shkreli and Turing Pharmaceuticals though, Shkreli initially defended the price hike. He said that the drug is rarely used but that the company was now “charging the right price that the markets and prior owners missed” and that this price hike would be fed back toward researching new treatment options.

Subsequent attempts to fact-check this claim have shown that while Shkreli might readily compare the drug to some cancer treatments this is a false equivalence as the drugs are in no way in the same family and when compared to equivalent drugs on the market the price hike cannot be justified. In addition, and as Snopes notes, Shkreli’s messaging on this grew somewhat confused, with him sometimes blaming investors for forcing the price hike rather than any long term plans for research.

Meanwhile, other articles digging into Shkreli’s history appeared to reveal some (at the very least) questionable practices relating to his hedge fund management, and a more recent pattern of buying up drugs and hiking the price on them, including a life saving kidney drug treatment.

However, criticism in the United States and from abroad–even though the price hike only directly impacts the U.S., the drug is on WHO’s Essential Medicine’s list–continued to grow, even catching the eye of presidential hopeful and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton who referred to the story in a social media post saying that she wanted to end price gouging. Even Republican hopeful Donald Trump commented, saying he thought Shkreli’s company had gone too far, calling Shkreli a “spoiled brat” and, while noting that he is no fan of “hedge fund guys” anyway, also saying that Shkreli should be “ashamed of himself.”

Not long after the outcry began, Turing Pharmaceuticals appeared to back-track and Shkreli–who by this time had been dubbed the “most hated man in America”–announced that the company would lower the price of the drug to an “affordable” level, though he never clarified what level that might be. Yet, despite telling several major news outlets that the price would be lowered, critics have noted that nearly a three weeks later the drug price still has not come down. In fact, in some cases, Daraprim appears to be retailing at about $900 per pill.

In the meantime, calls for an investigation of this price hike, and the wider industry practice of price gouging, has grown. Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin released a statement on this issue, saying:

“The burden of this unjustified and unprecedented cost will undoubtedly be shouldered by the most vulnerable members of our community — including people living with HIV and pregnant women. A thorough investigation is needed to ensure that irresponsible companies like Turing Pharmaceuticals are not preventing vulnerable patients from getting access to lifesaving medications.”

Indeed, a previous investigation by both the U.S. House and Senate, which was partly led by Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders, revealed that this kind of “anarchy pricing” as it has been called, is common place where generic drugs are concerned, with price hikes ranging from just under 400 percent to 8200 percent on 10 leading generic drugs.

On a related point, it has since emerged that Shkreli donated some $2,700 to the Sanders’ campaign–or at least he tried. Instead of taking the money and using it as a regular political donation, Sanders will reportedly donate that money to the Whitman-Walker health clinic in Washington. A Sanders spokesperson is on record as saying, “We are not keeping the money from this poster boy for drug company greed.” Shkreli is said to be “furious” and had hoped that the donation would have allowed him time with the Senator to explain why drug companies “have to” raise the price on drugs in order to develop better treatments. Apparently, Sanders is not to be convinced. 

Now, in the latest installment of this debacle, New York’s Attorney General’s office has announced it is investigating whether Turing Pharmaceuticals has taken steps to unlawfully curtail competition, with a letter from the anti-trust bureau that was obtained by The New York Times saying, “While competition might ordinarily be expected to deter such a massive price increase, it appears that Turing may have taken steps to prevent that competition from arising.”

The New York Times also notes that Shkreli’s former drug company Retrophin had a habit of acquiring older drugs and then raising prices, and that specifically the company had used ”restricted distribution to deny samples to generics manufacturers.” While the Times rightly notes that there can be several reasons to restrict availability, it is a practice that is undeniably useful for reducing competition.

Campaigners say that this one investigation isn’t enough though, and that Congress must act to reduce the pharmaceutical industry’s power to price gouge or else this will keep happening.

TAKE ACTION: Sign this Care2 petition to call on Congress to end pharmaceutical company monopolies!

Photo credit: Thinkstock.

82 comments

Peter B.
Peter B.3 months ago

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Nelson E.
Nelson E.about a year ago

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Rebacca O.
Rebacca O.about a year ago

i want to use this medium to let every one know that HIV/AIDS has cure and that Dr drsukuju is the solution.I am Rabacce from Canada i was tested HIV/AIDS positive in February the year 2014, then early this month i saw a testimony on how someone got cured of HIV/AIDS by a spell caster and i decided to consult this spell caster and he told me everything that he needed and i play along and he now then told me that he has prepared some local medicine that i need to drink it and he send it to me i actually did as he directed, the later that night i was unable to sleep i urinate and toilet almost all the night i called him later that night to tell him how am feeling he told me that everything will be fine and advice me that i should go to hospital the next to checked my status i actually did and i was now tested NEGATIVE i told everybody right there at the hospital and i called him and thank him for his good work he told me to tell you out there if you knew you have this disease that you should contact him through his email: drsukujuspelltemple@gmail.com.and he can cure any kind of disease check his web site here, http://drsukujuspelltempl.wix.com/dr-sukuju, all thanks be to you Dr

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Rebacca O.
Rebacca O.about a year ago

i want to use this medium to let every one know that HIV/AIDS has cure and that Dr drsukuju is the solution.I am Rabacce from Canada i was tested HIV/AIDS positive in February the year 2014, then early this month i saw a testimony on how someone got cured of HIV/AIDS by a spell caster and i decided to consult this spell caster and he told me everything that he needed and i play along and he now then told me that he has prepared some local medicine that i need to drink it and he send it to me i actually did as he directed, the later that night i was unable to sleep i urinate and toilet almost all the night i called him later that night to tell him how am feeling he told me that everything will be fine and advice me that i should go to hospital the next to checked my status i actually did and i was now tested NEGATIVE i told everybody right there at the hospital and i called him and thank him for his good work he told me to tell you out there if you knew you have this disease that you should contact him through his email: drsukujuspelltemple@gmail.com.and he can cure any kind of disease check his web site here, http://drsukujuspelltempl.wix.com/dr-sukuju, all thanks be to you Dr

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Rebacca O.
Rebacca O.about a year ago

i want to use this medium to let every one know that HIV/AIDS has cure and that Dr drsukuju is the solution.I am Rabacce from Canada i was tested HIV/AIDS positive in February the year 2014, then early this month i saw a testimony on how someone got cured of HIV/AIDS by a spell caster and i decided to consult this spell caster and he told me everything that he needed and i play along and he now then told me that he has prepared some local medicine that i need to drink it and he send it to me i actually did as he directed, the later that night i was unable to sleep i urinate and toilet almost all the night i called him later that night to tell him how am feeling he told me that everything will be fine and advice me that i should go to hospital the next to checked my status i actually did and i was now tested NEGATIVE i told everybody right there at the hospital and i called him and thank him for his good work he told me to tell you out there if you knew you have this disease that you should contact him through his email: drsukujuspelltemple@gmail.com.and he can cure any kind of disease check his web site here, http://drsukujuspelltempl.wix.com/dr-sukuju, all thanks be to you Dr
,

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 .
.about a year ago

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 .
.about a year ago

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.about a year ago

I am very happy today to share this amazing testimony on how Dr. Ogudo the herbal doctor was able to cure me from my HIV Virus with his herbal medicine. I have been a HIV for almost 8 months now and have tried different methods of treatment to ensure that I am cured of this terrible disease, but one worked for me, so I had to leave everything to God to handle as I was a Christian who had faith that one day God would intervene in my life, yet I felt so sad and desperate as I was losing almost everything due to my illness, A few months ago while I was surfing the internet I saw different recommendation about Dr Ogudo on how he have been using his herbal Medicine to treat and cure people, these people advice we contact Dr. Ogudo for any problem that would help immediately, I contacted Dr Ogudo and I told him how I got his contact and also about my disease, after some time Dr. Ogudo told me to have faith that he would prepare for me a medication of herbal herbs, he told me I would take this medicine for a few weeks and also asked my home for home address so as possible for him to submit the drug for me, so my good friends after all the process and everything Dr Ogudo actually sent me the medicine, I took it as I was directed by Dr. Ogudo, after a few weeks passed, while on Dr.Ogudo medication I began to experience changes in my body, I had to call my doctor at the hospital for some blood test after test my hospital doctor told me that I was no longer with the herpes virus and m

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Raymond N.
Past Member about a year ago

I have been suffering from (HERPES) disease for the last four years and had constant pain, especially in my knees. During the first year,I had faith in God that i would be healed someday.This disease started circulate all over my body and i have been taking treatment from my doctor, few weeks ago i came on search on the internet if i could get any information concerning the prevention of this disease, on my search i saw a testimony of someone who has been healed from (Hepatitis B and Cancer) by this Man Dr Sunshine and she also gave the email address of this man and advise we should contact him for any sickness that he would be of help, so i wrote to Dr. Sunshine telling him about my (HERPES Virus) he told me not to worry that i was going to be cured!! hmm i never believed it,, well after all the procedures and remedy given to me by this man few weeks later i started experiencing changes all over me as the Dr assured me that i have cured,after some time i went to my doctor to confirmed if i have be finally healed behold it was TRUE, So friends my advise is if you have such sickness or any other at all you can email Dr.Sunshine on : dr.sunshineherbalhome@gmail.com sir i am indeed grateful for the help i will forever recommend you to my friends!!! with your lovely Email Address dr.sunshineherbalhome@gmail.com or contact him on his via whatassp 2349051208634?

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Bello J.
Bello J.about a year ago

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