Senators McCaskill and Collins call for “perspectives from the front lines”
The U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging, chaired by Senator Susan M. Collins (R-ME), convened a panel of witnesses on December 9, 2015 to testify with regard to what many are calling unfair, price-gouging practices by pharmaceutical corporations who acquire stockpiles of generic drugs.
The witnesses were:
- Erin R. Fox, Pharm.D., Director, Drug Information Service, University of Utah Health Care and Adjunct Associate Professor, University of Utah College of Pharmacy, Dept. of Pharmacotherapy
- David W. Kimberlin, M.D., Professor and Vice Chair for Clinical and Translational Research and Co-Director, Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, Department of Pediatrics, University of Alabama at Birmingham
- Gerard Anderson, Ph.D., Professor, Health Policy and Management, Medicine, and International Health, Johns Hopkins University
- Mark Merritt, President & Chief Executive Officer, Pharmaceutical Care Management Association
In her opening statement, Senator McCaskill (D-MO) cited some examples of the urgent problem: “Daraprim, a drug originally developed to treat malaria, is the medicine doctors today use to treat toxoplasmosis—a disease that affects about 22 percent of the U.S. population. While the majority of toxoplasmosis cases do not require treatment, the disease can be deadly for babies and those with compromised immune systems, like patients with cancer or HIV.”
“Daraprim was developed in the 1950s and has no current patent or other exclusivity protections. In 2005, a patient infected with toxoplasmosis could expect to spend $70 on a typical course of Daraprim. In 2010, a company named CorePharma, which was later acquired by Impax, purchased the rights to Daraprim and raised the cost of a course of treatment to roughly $900. In August of this year, the rights to Daraprim were once again sold, this time to Turing Pharmaceuticals. The new price tag for an average course of treatment? $50,000—an increase of more than 6,000 percent since 2005,” she added.
Presciently, Sen. McCaskill then turned her attention to then-Turing CEO Martin Shkreli, who was arrested on charges of securities fraud only 8 days after this hearing. “[He] declared the new price his company set for Daraprim both ‘reasonable’ and ‘appropriate.’ More recently, at a Forbes healthcare summit last Thursday, Mr. Shkreli lamented that he should have raised the price of Daraprim even higher. An almost 1,200 percent increase in 2010 was bad enough, but an additional 5,500 percent price increase on a 62-year old drug shocks the conscience. And this type of price increase in the absence of any improvements to the drug whatsoever is not an isolated incident.”
The actions of another corporation which has been featured in the Deadly Prescription blog then came to the fore. “In July, I had the chance at a hearing to question another pharmaceutical executive, Howard Schiller of Valeant Pharmaceuticals, about an 820 percent price increase his company took in February 2015 after acquiring another off-patent drug called Isuprel, which is used to treat cardiac arrest. When I asked Mr. Schiller how Valeant could justify such an increase on Isuprel, a drug to which no improvements had been made post-acquisition, Mr. Schiller could only tell me that Valeant had conducted a ‘complex’ analysis and had concluded that the drug was previously ‘significantly underpriced.’ He further asserted that such a price increase on a Valeant drug was ‘an anomaly.’”