Clinton vows ‘gouging’ fight after massive drug price hikes

Printed from:

Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Rodham Clinton is touting a plan to address “gouging” in the pharmaceutical industry after huge price increases in some drugs, the Associated Press reported.

Clinton’s statements on Twitter came after news that drugmaker Turing Pharmaceuticals hiked the price of a 53-year-old generic medication for a potentially deadly parasitic infection from less than $20 per pill to $750.

The outpouring of criticism seems to have produced results. Turing Pharmaceuticals CEO Martin Shkreli told ABC News on Tuesday that the new price would make Daraprim more accessible, although he did not say what the new price for the drug would be.

Because the drug, Daraprim, treats patients with compromised immune systems, the increase sparked outrage from medical groups representing doctors who care for patients with HIV and other infectious diseases. The charge for another drug, cycloserine, used to treat some tuberculosis patients, that had been raised to $360 a pill from $16 was rolled back – to $35, according to the Newser website, which cited the New York Times.

Clinton’s proposal aims to cap monthly and annual out-of-pocket costs for prescription drugs to help patients with chronic or serious health conditions. It would also deny tax breaks for televised direct-to-consumer advertising and require drug makers that receive taxpayer funds to invest in research and development.

“We will start by capping how much you have to pay out of pocket for prescription drugs each month. And we’re going to hold drug companies accountable as we work to drive down prices,” Clinton said Monday at a campaign event in Louisiana. In a tweet, she said the “price gouging” by Turing, reported by the Times, “is outrageous.”

Clinton detailed her plan Tuesday at a community forum in Des Moines, Iowa, part of a weeklong push to defend President Barack Obama’s signature health care law. Clinton has credited the sweeping measure with driving down the rate of uninsured Americans and chastised Republicans who have sought its repeal.

Clinton’s comments helped crater stocks in biotechnology companies and drugmakers, with declines of roughly 5 percent Monday in Biogen and Vertex Pharmaceuticals, both based in greater Boston.

Biologic drugs are produced in living cells and specialty drugs treat complex, chronic conditions, usually requiring injections and sometimes must be kept refrigerated. Some are very expensive.

Many new drugs for cancer, hepatitis C, rare disorders and even a new class of cholesterol drugs have prices in the range of $80,000 or more for a year or course of treatment. Some represent major medical advances, saving lives and other medical costs. Others are minor improvements, such as cancer drugs that add a few months’ survival over existing medicines.

Cycloserine is used to treat some forms of drug-resistant tuberculosis, Newser said. A nonprofit organization that controlled the rights to the treatment sold them to Rodelis Therapeutics in August. After Rodelis, the buyer, hiked the price, the Purdue Research Foundation, the former owner, got the rights back, Newser said, citing reports in the Times and the Wall Street Journal. The drug is used to treat about 40 Americans a year.

Turing’s price hike was only the latest — though perhaps most outrageous — example of price hikes, or sky-high introductory costs for new drugs. Insurance companies, politicians, patient advocates and other critics have been blasting those prices as outrageous and unsustainable for the health care system, not to mention patients who sometimes must pay up to 30 percent of the cost.

In the case of Turing’s Daraprim, the only U.S.-approved treatment for toxoplasmosis, the company obtained rights to sell the drug in August and raised the price overnight. The company is run by Martin Shkreli, a former hedge fund manager. On Monday he repeated comments meant to justify the increase, saying that Turing hopes to develop new, better therapies for the infection. It also stressed that some patients can get financial aid from the company to obtain the drug.

The jump in cost is particularly surprising because Daraprim, the common name for the drug pyrimethamine, is an off-patent generic developed more than 60 years ago, CBS News reported.

Shkreli told “CBS This Morning” Daraprim is not overpriced compared with its peers. “The drug was unprofitable at the former price … at this price it’s a reasonable profit, not excessive at all,” Shkreli said on the show. He claimed the higher price would allow the company to develop newer, better drugs.

“Our first and primary stakeholder is patients,” he said.

Shkreli “bought this patent and he’s milking it for all it’s worth,” Princeton health care economist Uwe Reinhardt told the Washington Post, according to Newser. “In a way, I thank him, because it’s really sort of like putting a sign on your back saying, ‘Kick me.'”

This article was compiled from staff and wire reports. NewBostonPost Managing Editor Ted Bunker contributed to this report.