Updated 22 September 2015

Businessman purchases rights to rare disease drug and hikes price by 5,000%

An American businessman has sparked international outrage after his pharmaceutical company acquired a rare disease drug, Daraprim, and promptly hiked the price by over 5,000%.


Martin Shkreli, former hedge fund manager turned U.S pharmaceutical businessman, has bought the rights to Daraprim and has hiked the price of the anti-parasitic drug from $13.50 to a whopping $750.00 per pill.

Daraprim has been on the market for over 60 years and is commonly used to treat cases of malaria and toxoplasmosis, a parasitic, food-borne illness that can be deadly for those with compromised immune systems, particularly those with HIV/Aids, cancer or women who are pregnant, the U.S Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains. 

Shkreli, who is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Turing Pharmaceuticals, acquired the drug for $55 million in August this year and, almost instantly, raised the price by 5,000%, The New York Times reports.

Widespread concern

While Turing Pharmaceuticals has certainly not done anything illegal, the whopping price increase raises a question of ethics when it comes to healthcare accessibility.

The drastic price hike quickly sparked widespread concern when the Infectious Disease Society of America wrote a letter to Turing Pharmaceuticals on the 8th of September urging them to "immediately revise the pricing strategy for the recently acquired drug pyrimethamine and to address distribution issues that are disrupting access to this generic medication used in the prevention and treatment of opportunistic infections".

The society goes on to give a breakdown of the devastating impact that the change in pricing could have on the health care system.

"Under the current pricing structure, it is estimated that the annual cost of treatment for toxoplasmosis, for the pyrimethamine component alone, will be $336,000 for patients who weigh less than 60 kilograms and $634,500 for patients who weigh more than 60 kilograms. This cost is unjustifiable for the medically vulnerable patient population in need of this medication and unsustainable for the health care system."

Shortly afterwards, alarmed members of the public, several non-profit organisations and other high-profile doctors began expressing concern on Twitter and other social media sites, calling for a boycott of Daraprim – something that would prove difficult considering that Daraprim is the only drug approved by the U.S Federal Drug Administration for the treatment of toxoplasmosis.

On the 21st of September, Shkreli justified the price increase in an interview with Bloomberg by stating that Turing Pharmaceuticals "needed to turn a profit on the drug". He went on to explain that companies like Glaxo Smith Kline, that used to own the rights to the drug were "just giving it away, almost".

Shkreli goes on to state that, despite the 5,000% price increase, the cost of Daraprim is still considerably lower than other rare disease medications.

"The price per course of treatment to save your life was only a thousand dollars and we know these days in modern pharmaceuticals, cancer drugs can cost a hundred thousand dollars or more, rare disease drugs can cost half a million dollars. Daraprim is still under-priced relative to its peers."

us businessman raises drug price by 5000%

Martin Shkreli, Founder and CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals (

Shkreli believes that previous owners of Daraprim were "not providing dedicated patient services" that are required for patients suffering from rare diseases like toxoplasmosis.

He further explains that Turing Pharmaceuticals has put certain protocols in place to ensure that patients actually have greater access to the drug than before. He suggests that the drug will actually cost patients less as their will be no medical insurance co-payment.

"If you can't afford the drug, we'll give it away totally for free, especially if the patient is in need or doesn't have an income."

Despite Shkreli's insistence that the price increase will actually benefit patients, 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has publicly condemned the actions of Turing Pharmaceuticals.

USA Today explains that Clinton plans to force pharmaceutical companies to reinvest drug profits into research and drug enhancements. Clinton is expected to outline her proposal at a speech in Iowa later today.

Read more:

Vaccines in poorest countries far too expensive

Its time to override patents on Aids drugs

Dr. Motsoaledi calls big pharma "genocidal"


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HIV/Aids expert

Dr Sindisiwe van Zyl qualified at the University of Pretoria before working for an HIV/AIDS NPO in Soweto for many years. She was named one of the Mail & Guardian's Top 200 Young South Africans in 2012.

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