My Name Is Martin Shkreli, and I’m Not Afraid to Make Life-saving Medication More Expensive

It’s not unhearddaraprim of for pharmaceutical companies to charge seemingly unreasonable amounts for medication used to treat life-threatening diseases, but there is one company that has been in the news recently. Turing, an American based company formed in early 2015 by Martin Shkreli, acquired the manufacturing licence for Daraprim in August, and recently announced the price of the drug would be going through changes. Keep in mind that Daraprim is on the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines. The original price of Daraprim was $13.50, so you could expect them to raise the price to $20 a pill if they were REALLY struggling, and then reduce it again when they were more financially stable, right? Okay, so they say they’re investing in research and development. $50 might be justifiable, at a push. That’s about 370% of the original price. But that’s not even close to what Turing wanted to charge. The company would have had one pill retailing at $750 – 5555.5% of the original price! It’s hard to see how anyone could do that to anyone without having a very guilty conscience, but Shkreli cared so little that he responded to criticism from the media with quotes from the popular rapper Eminem.  But as the news spread, the backlash was so great that even Shkreli, who is “really good at logic, difficult situations and tough choices” (according to his OKCupid profile), had to back down and lower the price to an as of yet undisclosed reduced price.

One last thing to spend some time thinking about – if this kind of reaction can make Shkreli reduce the price of Daraprim, can the same be done to other companies who charge extreme prices for vital medicines? Could Phizer, who were accused of charging “excessive and unfair” prices for Phenytoin sodium capsules in August 2015, be convinced to lower the prices if people simply stood up and said ‘This is not okay’? If pharmaceutical companies charged fair amounts for their medicines, could the NHS avoid having to cut junior doctors’ wages?




    • Thanks Doc. Firstly, moody teenagers throughout the ages have proved that, although not popular, passive-aggressive subliminal messaging can have some effect on people’s behaviour. I admit that I would rather not be reminded of the price of medicine that I need, but it would make me reconsider getting medicine that I might be able to do without. Secondly, Turing has stated that profits would have been invested in disease education, patient compliance, improvements to treatments for toxoplasmosis (the disease for which Daraprim is a treatment for) and financial assistance programs. While these are good causes, they are not the anti-malarial vaccine which may have justified such an increase in price. However, 10 years is a long time in the modern scientific world and it would not be unreasonable to think that Turing could branch out and develop such a vaccine, but whether it would be worth making Daraprim so expensive or not is, in the end, subject to personal beliefs. Ultimately, the side you agree with depends on how much you agree with the statement “The end justifies the means”

  1. While you raise a good point about the end justifying the means Doc, surely you must agree that a price increase of 5555.5% is unjustifiably large, and that the potential harm to patients requiring the drug is not acceptable- even if the money made may help to fund research into future drugs and vaccines.

  2. I do understand that pharmaceutical companies themselves to not take a Hippocratic oath, the doctors that prescribe these medications do. I appreciate that ethics is partially subjective, but surely the profit margins indictated here are ridiculously high enough to be considered unethical? There have been far too many consumer international reports exposing the unethical practices of these companies, corroborated by the well known/respected Ben Goldacre. Whilst one never really wishes to put a price on human health, perhaps at some point we need to put a fair and ethical price on the profit margins made when resorting human health. Unfortunately, pharmaceutical companies are showing us capitalism at its worst.

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