Fully sick profits

27 September 2015
Rebecca Barrigos

In many ways Martin Shkreli, the CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, and the disease-causing Toxoplasma gondii share a lot in common. They thrive off the vulnerability of the sick and weak, create nothing of value themselves and are both parasites born of a shitty environment.

Recently Shkreli bought the rights to manufacture and distribute a 62-year-old drug called Daraprim. Shkreli then raised the price from US$13.50 to $750 per pill.

Daraprim is used to treat an infection called taxoplasmosis, which is caused by the parasite T. gondii and commonly contracted via the consumption of undercooked meat or exposure to cat faeces. It is a required drug in the treatment plans of many patients suffering from HIV/AIDS or who are undergoing intensive chemotherapy because taxoplasmosis is deadly when caught by those with weakened immune systems.

This despicable 5,455 percent price hike for a tablet that by Shkreli’s own admission costs around US$1 to make, has understandably raised the ire of thousands and earned him the moniker of the “most hated man in America”.

Multiple TV appearances in which the CEO tried to justify his actions have done nothing but fuel the outrage. He told one Bloomberg TV interviewer that he needed to “turn a profit” and that his actions were reasonable given that previously patients were paying “only” around $1,000 for a course of life-saving treatment – a piddling amount according to him, when compared to the hundreds of thousands some cancer patients are forced to pay for their treatments.

In a similarly candid interview with CBS News, Shkreli said, “There’s no doubt I’m a capitalist. I’m trying to create a big drug company, a successful drug company, a profitable drug company”.

This is not the first time Shkreli has sought to “turn a profit” in this disgusting way. In 2011, at another company that he founded, Retrophin, he jacked up by 2,000 percent the price of a drug used to treat children suffering a rare form of kidney disease.

But Shkreli is only one such capitalist benefitting from what amounts to a common business practice in the pharmaceutical industry. He is just more open about his motives than most. Shkreli’s media statements reveal a fundamental fact about the health care market: all pharmaceutical companies profit from sickness.

And they can do so all the more effectively if, like Shkreli, they can acquire exclusive control over the supply of a drug. By doing so, the companies gain control over distribution, forcing up the price of treatments, as well as restricting the ability of other labs to access the drugs and produce cheaper generic medicines.

After a week of public condemnation, Shkreli has announced he will be lowering the price of Daraprim – but not back to $13.50. Meanwhile, the HIV Medicine Association and the Infectious Diseases Society of America report that low income patients are already suffering from decreased hospital access to Daraprim at its hiked price.

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