A small drugmaker that promised to decrease the price of a lifesaving drug — after raising it about 5,000 percent — now says it will not cut the list price of the drug, sold exclusively by select Walgreens pharmacies.
Turing Pharmaceuticals AG, a privately held biopharmaceutical company run by former hedge-fund manager Martin Shkreli, caused a furor in September when it acquired the drug, Daraprim, and immediately raised the price of the 62-year-old medicine from $13.50 a tablet to $750 a tablet. The price increase meant some patients or their insurers would suddenly be paying hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for treatment.
On Tuesday, the drugmaker said it would not cut the list price — the price charged by Walgreens, its exclusive retailer for patients who take the drug after being discharged from a hospital.
Walgreens, based in suburban Chicago, had signed a deal last year with a previous manufacturer of the drug to sell it through its network of about 1,200 “specialty pharmacies” — a group of retail pharmacies, health system pharmacies and hospital pharmacies, all of which operate under the Walgreens name.
However, the company made some concessions on pricing. It said it would offer discounts of up to 50 percent for hospitals, which are the first to treat many patients with toxoplasmosis, a parasitic disease often contracted by eating undercooked contaminated meat. The disease can cause severe brain damage in people with compromised immune systems.
A Walgreens spokesman said Wednesday that he was unaware of any outcry over the price from customers who depend on the drug. Only about 2,000 people in the U.S. use Daraprim. “It’s such a tiny number,” company spokesman Michael Polzin said.
But Walgreens said it wants Turing to uphold its pledge to cut the price of the drug, as it promised in September after the uproar.
“We have made clear to Turing that we want them to follow through on their promise to revise their pricing not only for hospital patients, but all patients, and have urged them to expand the number of specialty pharmacies to promote greater access and affordability,” Polzin said. “We are awaiting their response and hope they will move quickly in the interest of patients.”
Walgreens has said it has no power over how manufacturers set prices and that sole distribution does not affect the price of specialty drugs.
The price increase led to an outcry by doctors, patient advocates and some members of Congress. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, an Illinois Democrat and long-time pharmaceutical industry critic, called for a congressional inquiry, saying this was a “particularly outrageous example” of how the pharmaceutical industry makes drugs unaffordable for people who need them.
Turing said Tuesday that it would provide the drug free to uninsured, qualified patients with income at or below 500 percent of the poverty level through its patient assistance program. It also said it would make a contribution to Patient Services Inc., an independent charity that provides financial assistance for Medicare patients. And it said it would participate in federal and state drug-discount programs.
“We pledge that no patient needing Daraprim will ever be denied access,” Nancy Retzlaff, chief commercial officer for Turing, said in a statement.
But some patient advocates said Wednesday that Daraprim’s price increases have been disruptive to patients. Many stay in hospitals for only a few days, then continue treatment at home for a year or more.