The CEO of a pharmaceutical company is defending its move to raise the price of a drug used in the treatment of HIV patients by more than 5,400 per cent.
Martin Shkreli, a controversial former hedge fund manager, has been targeted on social media after his company, Turing Pharmaceuticals, bought the drug Daraprim in August and raised its price from $13.50 to $750 per dose, The New York Times reported.
The drug is mostly used in the treatment of toxoplasmosis, an infectious parasite that is considered a "leading cause of death attributed to foodborne illness in the United States," says the Centers for Disease Control.
The infection is particularly dangerous for pregnant women and people with compromised immune systems due to illnesses such as AIDS or cancer.
Various health bodies recommend using Daraprim, which was approved by the FDA in 1953, to help prevent HIV-related conditions such as pneumocystis pneumonia (PCP), toxoplasma gondii encephalitis and isospora belli infection.
The price of a course of treatment with Daraprim could now be as much as "$336,000 for people weighing less than 60 kilograms, and $634,500 for patients who weigh more than 60 kilograms," said a letter from the Infectious Diseases Society of America and the HIV Medicine Association earlier this month.
"This cost is unjustifiable for the medically vulnerable patient population in need of this medication and unsustainable for the health care system," they wrote.
Shkreli has been vehemently attacked on social media after raising the drug's price:
yeah I literally have no mercy or sympathy for martin shkreli. Not going to turn my nose up at people reacting violently to him.
— Green With NB (@GatsbyLow) September 21, 2015
I'd like to see someone turn your kneecaps into dust https://t.co/4jL4tkr44j
— MC ☭ (@theOFFICIALmilf) September 21, 2015
.@MartinShkreli As the son of a world-famous infectious disease MD who saved continents, let me say: U are the personification of evil.
— Kurt Eichenwald (@kurteichenwald) September 21, 2015
He has also fought back:
http://t.co/co6Fmwk3XX And it seems like the media immediately points a finger at me So I point one back at em, but not the index or pinkie
— Martin Shkreli (@MartinShkreli) September 21, 2015
In more temperate words, Shkreli told the Times that, "this isn't the greedy drug company trying to gouge patients, it is us trying to stay in business.
"This is still one of the smallest pharmaceutical products in the world ... it really doesn't make sense to get any criticism for this."
Shkreli told Bloomberg TV that his company raised the price of the drug for a number of reasons.
One of them was to make money; he said that Daraprim is "still underpriced, relative to its peers."
He pointed out that the price of a course of Daraprim treatment previously came up to about $1,000, while certain cancer treatments can cost $100,000 or more.
And while he admitted that it only costs $1 to produce the drug, Shkreli said there are plenty of other figures that have to be taken into account, such as distribution, manufacturing and FDA costs, as well as "the people that make the pill and make sure that it's made to specification."
"Those costs have increased dramatically over the years," he said.
Shkreli also said Turing is spending "tens of millions of dollars" to turn Daraprim a more effective drug, and that raising the price allows them to put more money into researching it.
He said Daraprim only cures people about 80 per cent of the time, but "I think we can get that to 100 with research."
Nevertheless, medical professionals remain concerned that the price of Daraprim has risen so dramatically.
Judith Aberg, head of the infections diseases division at New York's Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, said the hike could mean hospitals will have to use alternatives to Daraprim that "may not have the same efficacy," the Times reported.
Shkreli, 32, is no stranger to controversy. He was previously accused of "spreading unfounded and inaccurate rumours about drugs owned by companies he was shorting" while working as chief investment officer at hedge fund MSMB Capital Management.
He is currently embroiled in a lawsuit with Biotech company Retrophin, which he founded in 2011, Bloomberg reported.
Retrophin has alleged that Shkreli used company money to pay off investors in a previous hedge fund, and demanded at least $65 million.
Shkreli has responded to the lawsuit saying that all of his actions were approved by Retrophin's board. His lawyers have also entered an arbitration and demanded that Retrophin pay him over $70 million.