TRENTON, N.J. — After weeks of criticism from patients, doctors and other drugmakers for hiking a life-saving medicine to more than 50 times its former price, Turing Pharmaceuticals is reneging on its pledge to cut the $750-per-pill price.
Instead, the small biotech company is reducing what it charges hospitals, by up to 50 percent, for its parasitic infection treatment Daraprim. Most patients’ co-payments will be capped at $10 or less a month. But insurers will be stuck with the bulk of the $750 tab. That drives up future treatment and insurance costs.
Daraprim is a 62-year-old pill whose patent expired decades ago. It is the preferred treatment for a rare parasitic infection, toxoplasmosis, which mainly threatens people with weak immune systems — such as organ transplant and HIV patients — and pregnant women, because it can kill their baby.
Carlos del Rio, chairman of the HIV Medicine Association, called Turing’s changes “just window dressing.”
Turing’s move comes after a pharmacy that compounds prescription drugs for individual patients, Imprimis Pharmaceuticals, started selling a custom-made version for 99 cents per capsule. Those sales were not a factor in Turing’s pricing strategy, chief marketing officer Nancy Retzlaff said Wednesday.
Del Rio noted that while hospitals treat many patients initially, most are then treated at home for a couple of months, so the lower hospital price doesn’t help.
“This medication can be made for pennies. They need to reduce the price to what it was before,” he said.
Turing, with offices in New York and Switzerland, bought the U.S. rights to sell Daraprim in August, when it had no competition. Daraprim is one of numerous old drugs with limited competition whose makers have raised prices sharply.
A furor over Turing’s price hike erupted, triggering multiple government investigations and pledges from politicians to rein in soaring prescription drug prices. Those include newly approved medicines costing around $100,000 a year and some old, formerly cheap generics.
Amid the heat, Turing chief executive Martin Shkreli said he would lower the price. Instead, the company lowered the price only to hospitals, and is offering the option of buying 30-pill bottles instead of 100-pill bottles to reduce their costs to stock it.
Shkreli was not available for comment.
Imprimis chief executive Mark Baum said Wednesday that orders are pouring in for its version of Daraprim from doctors, and the company has dispensed more than 2,500 capsules since Oct. 22.