Daraprim is used to fight a parasitic infection called toxoplasmosis, which is potentially life-threatening for people with weakened immune systems, such as those with AIDS or cancer. But just last month, the price shot up more than 5,000%, from $13.50 (£8.70) a tablet to $750 (£485) per pill, USA Today reported last week. That means the annual cost of the treatment could be hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Toxoplasmosis is a leading cause of death by a foodborne illness in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The single-celled parasite Toxoplasma gondii infects most animals, though it only reproduces in cats. People become infected by consuming contaminated water or meat and unwashed fruits and vegetables, using contaminated knives and cutting boards, and coming into contact with the feces of infected cats. More than 60 million Americans carry the parasite yet very few show symptoms thanks to their immune systems. However, babies born to women infected while pregnant and anyone with a compromised immune system could suffer severe consequences: The parasite attacks the brain and can lead to seizures, blindness, or neurological damage.
Daraprim (which is the trade name for pyrimethamine) has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration since 1953. For decades, it was made by GlaxoSmithKline, which sold the U.S. marketing rights in 2010 to CorePharma, which was bought by Impax Laboratories last year. This latest price spike came last month, shortly after New York-based Turing Pharmaceuticals purchased exclusive rights to the drug.
The price increase could force hospitals to use alternative therapies without the same efficacy, The New York Times explained, and because of the price tag attached to “specialty” drugs, even patients with insurance might not be able to afford Daraprim.
In a joint letter to Turing earlier this month, the Infectious Diseases Society of America and the HIV Medicine Association urged the company to revise its pricing strategy: “This cost is unjustifiable for the medically vulnerable patient population in need of this medication and unsustainable for the health care system.” The annual cost of treating toxoplasmosis could be as much as $634,500, they calculated.
According to Turing founder and chief executive, Martin Shkreli, the company plans to use the money to develop better treatments for toxoplasmosis. He also said the drug is so rarely used, the impact on the health system would be minuscule. “This isn’t the greedy drug company trying to gouge patients,” Shkreli told The New York Times, “it is us trying to stay in business.” Turing spokesman Craig Rothenberg told USA Today that the company is working with hospitals and providers to get every patient covered, from free-of-charge options for uninsured patients to co-pay assistance programs, adding that “there has been no innovation in dealing with toxoplasmosis.”
Until last month, the Los Angeles Times reported, the six-week, two-pill-a-day course of Daraprim would have cost just $1,130.