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Battle Over High Drug Prices Sparks Search For Alternatives
- Updated: October 23, 2015
Across the nation, too many people are paying way too much for the drugs they need to maintain their health. The cost of many drugs have risen much faster than inflation and resources are being stretched to their limit attempting to pay for them. There seems to be no logical reason for the high drug prices other than boosting the bottom lines of the drug companies that make them.
A number of groups have come out against the practice of pricing drugs at much more than their manufacturing costs. The battle over high drug prices will only intensify in the lead-up to the 2016 Presidential elections. Several presidential candidates, including Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have spoken out against what they see as price gouging by the pharmaceutical industry.
The latest skirmish over high drug prices was launched when Turing Pharmaceuticals’ CEO Martin Shkreli announced a price increase for a generic drug formulation that raised the cost from $13.50 per pill to $750 each. The drug in question, Daraprim (generically pyrimethamine), is used to treat toxoplasmosis, a disease that can infect pregnant women, unborn children, and immunocompromised patients, such as those with HIV/AIDS or cancer. Turing purchased the rights to Daraprim from Impax Pharmaceuticals last August for $55 million. Patients, politicians, and pharmaceutical societies denounced the price increase as pure greed.
One of the solutions being proposed is to give compounding pharmacies greater leeway in the drug formulations they can create. Compounding pharmacies dispense custom drug formulations as prescribed for an individual patient by a physician, much like all pharmacies did before the rise of the big drug companies. Guided by a doctor’s prescription, they make customized formulations from approved materials into many forms, including capsules, tablets, liquids, gels, creams, sterile injectables, and suppositories. Today, compounding pharmacies primarily make versions of off-patent drugs that are no longer available, or are sold commercially in a forms that some people can’t take.
As an extension of their compounding pharmacy services, Imiprimis Pharmaceuticals recently announced that it would be offering patient-specific, custom formulations of pyrimethamine together with leucovorin, a folic acid relative used to offset some of pyrimethamine’s side effects at a price as low as 100 capsules for $99. San Diego-based Imiprimis operates four FDA-registered facilities across the country that are licensed by state boards of pharmacy in all 50 states.
The Imiprimis initiative provides patients with a valuable alternative that doesn’t encroach on Turing’s product. Because Daraprim only contains pyrimethamine, compound patient-specific capsules with leucovorin in them does not violate any federal or state laws regarding compounding. This may be a good solution for getting around the patents of the companies with drug prices that far exceed the drugs’ actual cost to manufacture.