In September 2015, Martin Shkreli, the head of Turing Pharmaceuticals raised the price of Daraprim, a life-saving HIV medication, from $13.50 to $750. This unexpected, steep price hike caused international outrage and raised questions about the ethics between pharmaceutical companies and their largely unregulated profit margins.
Shkreli claimed that the price hike was a necessary evil because his shareholders expected nothing less than the maximum possible profit. As events unfolded, Shkreli was eventually arrested in December of the same year for fraud related to his past ventures, and subsequently stepped down as head of Turing Pharmaceuticals. As of January 2016, Turing has slashed the price of Daraprim by 50 percent for hospitals pledging that "no patient needing Daraprim will ever be denied access".
Nature of HIV/AIDS Treatment
Martin Shkreli's actions shined a spotlight on HIV/AIDS treatment, particularly in terms of how vital these treatments are to patient wellbeing. Raising the price of Daraprim has a knock-on effect on hospitals and community pharmacies who are saddled with these additional costs. HIV treatment has, however, progressed in leaps and bounds in knowledge over recent years, with alternative treatments available if necessary.
HIV treatment is not solely about using drugs to target HIV. As HIV progresses into AIDS, the human body becomes more susceptible to infection. These infections may be parasitic, viral, or bacterial. Therefore, the infections need to be treated given that an AIDS patient's immune system is compromised. Daraprim is used to treat a parasitic infection commonly contracted by AIDS patients.
Daraprim and AIDS
Daraprim is a medicine used in the treatment of protozoal infections, malaria, and Toxoplasma gondii infections. However, the drug is most commonly associated with treating HIV. Daraprim is not an isolated treatment for the viral infection, but is used alongside other drugs, such as sulfadiazine, in the treatment of HIV positive patients. It is most commonly used to treat parasitic infections caused by the onset of AIDS.
The active ingredient of Daraprim is a drug called pyrimethamine, which is associated with its own range of potential side effects. These unwanted effects include rash, nausea, vomiting, headache, and low red and white blood cell counts. Daraprim is rarely associated with seizures.
Role of Turing Pharmaceuticals
Turing Pharmaceuticals was founded in February 2015 and currently promotes two drug substances: pyrimethamine and mecamylamine (the latter is used to treat hypertension). The company is named after the famous computer scientist, Alan Turing. Pyrimethamine has been available since 1947. When its patent expired in 2015, its production rights were purchased by Turing Pharmaceuticals.
In September 2015, in connection with CEO Martin Shkreli, Turning Pharmaceuticals announced an unprecedented price hike, with Daraprim going from $13.50 to $750. Only two months later, in December 2015, Shkreli was arrested on fraud charges against investors he used to work with. The charges forced him to step down as CEO. The current interim CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals is now Ron Tilles.
Future of Turing Pharmaceuticals
After Shkreli stepped down, Turing Pharmaceuticals immediately sought to streamline its operations. One of its first moves was announcing job cuts for its staff located in New York and Switzerland. The interim CEO, Ron Tilles, explained that these staff cuts were necessary in order for the company to achieve its long-term objectives.
The long-term plan of Turing Pharmaceuticals will involve expanding their product portfolio, as they currently only have two drugs in circulation, pyrimethamine and mecamylamine. Streamlining operations at the company is in line with their focus on profitability, whether this comes in the form of raising the ceiling price of medications or cutting staff numbers.