Saturday 3 December 2016

Hedge fund trader shrugs off criticism for increasing AIDS drug price from $13.50 to $750

David Kearns

Published 22/09/2015 | 08:58

Mr Shkreli tweeted this image after criticism of his firm's Daraprim 5000pc price increase was first raised Credit: Martin Shkreli
Mr Shkreli tweeted this image after criticism of his firm's Daraprim 5000pc price increase was first raised Credit: Martin Shkreli

A hedge fund manager is at the centre of mounting controversy after his pharmaceutical company raised overnight the cost of a life-saving treatment for people with Aids and weakened immune systems from $13.50 per pill to $750.

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The 5,000 pc increase was enacted last month for Daraprim, known generically as pyrimethamine, by Turing Pharmaceuticals, a start-up firm which bought the rights to the drug.

The pharmaceutical company is headed by Martin Shkreli (32), who has a history of purchasing rights to old drugs and drastically increasing their price.

In 2014, as the head of biotech firm Retrophin, he acquired the rights to Thiola, a drug used to treat an incurable kidney disease, and increased its price by 2000 pc.

The 32-year-old was later fired and sued for $65 million by Retrophin over allegations he misused the company's funds to settle personal debts and keep afloat his flailing investment firm.

Daraprim fights toxoplasmosis, a common food-borne disease that easily infects people whose immune systems have been weakened by AIDS, chemotherapy or pregnancy.

Earlier this the month, the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) and the HIV Medicine Association sent a joint letter to Turing calling the price increase for Daraprim, a 62-year-old drug, as “unjustifiable for the medically vulnerable patient population”.

“Please help us improve public health by immediately implementing a rational and fair pricing strategy for pyrimethamine that keeps treatment for a potentially fatal condition accessible to our patients,” the letter said.

Yesterday the company’s stocks tumbled after Hilary Clinton fired off a tweet about "price gouging" in biotech drugs.

Ms Clinton sent out a link to a New York Times article about it, and promised to unveil a plan on Tuesday to take on "outrageous" price increases.

On Monday, Mr Shkreli told Bloomberg News that firms that had previously owned the rights to the drug had been "virtually giving it away".

A Turing spokesman, Craig Rothenberg, told USA Today the company was working with hospitals and providers to get every patient covered.

Mr Rothenberg defended Daraprim's price, saying that the company will use the money it makes from sales to further research treatments for toxoplasmosis. 

“There has been no innovation in dealing with toxoplasmosis,” he said.

“That has been a long neglect in the patient community.”

Daraprim, which is also used to treat malaria, had long been made by British firm GlaxoSmithKline.

However Glaxo sold United States marketing rights to CorePharma in 2010, and last year, Impax Laboratories agreed to buy Core and affiliated companies for $700m.

In August, Impax sold Daraprim to Turing for $55m.

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