Drug price hikes get attention and an “unheralded hero” is remembered . . . We’re reading about profits and purpose

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NewWWRThe two medicines that made the news this week were not widely known, but are potential lifesavers for the people to whom they are prescribed. Pyrimethamine, sold as Daraprim, is a critical treatment for toxoplasmosis, a parasitic infection that is life-threatening for patients with compromised immune systems, including people with HIV. Cycloserine is used to treat tuberculosis in people who can’t tolerate other drugs due to liver toxicity, and in people whose disease is resistant to other drugs. Exponential increases in the prices for the drugs in the United States by two drug companies that recently bought rights to those drugs — by 5000 percent for Daraprim, by 2000 percent for cycloserine — at first attracted little notice beyond those who needed the drugs to stay alive and recover. But action from concerned physicians and advocates attracted some of the attention issues of drug pricing and distribution — that don’t stop with these two drugs — deserve. That attention got results, and raised questions still waiting for answers.

It was two weeks ago that leadership of HIVMA and the Infectious Diseases Society of America (under which the Center for Global Health Policy produces this blog) wrote to Turing Pharmaceuticals to share physicians’ concerns about the company’s decision to raise the price of its newly acquired drug from $13.50 a tablet to $750. Here is a small sampling of the reporting on what happened next . . .

Company hikes price 5000% for drug that fights complication of AIDS, cancer and Drug goes from $13.50 to $750 overnight – The first stories, from USA Today and The New York Times described both the immediate impact of the price increase and newly restricted distribution of the drug — even patients with insurance could not afford the drug, while hospitals were having difficulty procuring it — and the larger issues of how drug prices are set and justified, and a growing trend making essential medicines unaffordable.

In the course of more than 100 news stories and the explosion of social media notice that followed, candidates and policy makers raised those concerns as well, including in this letter from ranking oversight and health committee members Rep. Elijah Cummings and Senator Bernie Sanders, to Turing requesting answers on the company’s pricing and distribution strategy. Then, on Tuesday . . .

Drug CEO Will Lower Price of Daraprim After Hike Sparked Outrage This report on NBC news captures a couple of the elements that sparked outrage, leaving some questions, including the new price of the drug, and the future of of that, and companies’ approach to drug pricing and distribution yet to be answered, and raised in coverage that followed.

Turing Pharmaceuticals confirms repricing of Daraprim Turing Pharmaceuticals C.E.O.: We’ll Maybe Stop the Drug Price Gouging in Vanity Fair address some of those questions, including the issue of reliable supplies of essential medicines. In the meantime . . .

Big price increase for tuberculosis drug is rescinded – The Mayo Clinic Center for Tuberculosis also had been reporting the sudden price leap for cycloserine — (from $500 for 30 pills to $10,800) — after Rodelis Therapeutics bought manufacturing rights for the tuberculosis drug from The Chao Center for Industrial Pharmacy & Contract Manufacturing. On Monday this Times story told how Chao bought the drug back after learning of a pricing strategy that was “not what we intended.” The price will come down to $1050 for 30 capsules — double the previous price.

Finally, while obstacles to drug access have gotten much needed attention this week, a life purposefully lived gives a chance to consider how life-saving solutions come about . . .

“It was the sort of thing in which I felt how could you say no. We were living through an emergency. Not that I was the only one who could do that job, but if I’d been asked to do that job, I should have a damn good reason for saying no, and I didn’t have any damn good reason to say no. It seemed to me that you have an obligation to do it,”

That’s immunologist Dr. William E. Paul explaining, in a 2012 interview, why he took the job as director of the Office of AIDS Research as its mandate expanded at the National Institutes of Health.

He died Friday, and his obituary in The New York Times tells how his work contributed to the development of antiretroviral treatments that are now saving the lives of millions of people with HIV and preventing new infections around the world.

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