Remember Martin Shkreli? He’s the detestable human toenail fungus who increased the cost of an effective HIV drug by 5,500 percent in one day. Well Shkreli can’t stop won’t stop because he is once again egregiously jacking up the price of disease-fighting drugs.
Shkreli, CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, has increased the price of a medicine used to treat Chagas disease, a parasitic infection that can cause heart failure. Shkreli, a former hedge fund manager, led an investor group that took control of a failing California biotechnology company KaloBios Pharmaceuticals. In one of his first moves at KaloBios, Shkreli agreed to license the worldwide rights to one version of benznidazole, which fights Chagas disease. During a conference call with KaloBios investors last week, Shkreli stated that if the company won F.D.A. approval for benznidazole, it would have exclusive rights to sell it in the United States for at least five years. He boasted that the price for the drugs would be similar to that of hepatitis C drugs, which cost $60,000 to nearly $100,000 for a course of treatment. Right now, benznidazole costs $50 to $100 for the typical two-month course of treatment in South and Central America, where Chagas disease is most common. It is estimated 300,000 in the United States have Chagas disease, and Shkreli estimates that between 3,000 and 7,000 people in the U.S. will require treatment for the acute infection each year.
Shkreli and his investor group purchased a majority of KaloBios Pharmaceuticals shares on the open market at an average price of about $1.50 a share. The stock of the company now sells for about $28. Shkreli’s company previously acquired the rights to the anti-HIV drug, Daraprim, before increasing the price from $13.50 to $700. Many health centers currently offer the anti-Chagas drug for free.
“It’s caused a lot of angst in the Chagas community,” said Dr. Sheba Meymandi, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, and director of a Chagas treatment center at Olive View-UCLA Medical Center. “Everyone’s in an uproar.”
I might be a little rusty, but I believe the word “Shkreli,” loosely translated from Albanian means “price-gouging soul-sucking slug.” I haven’t spoken the language in some time so I could be mistaken though.