Something about efforts to fight parasites seems to bring out an urge in Martin Shkreli to fight back . . . . While the high-living pharmaceutical CEO faces a possible Club Fed staycation, pursuit of worldwide Chagas drug rights threatens treatment access
A program intended to improve access and options to treatments for illnesses affecting people in resource-limited environments had its quirks from the start. It didn’t include or encourage development for medicines for some of the deadliest neglected diseases, and it also sped development of much less essential drugs with vouchers that could be sold, and could ease approval for any medicine.
Now the program could be inadvertently contributing to the exact opposite of its intended effect, and be a factor in a move that could prevent hundreds of thousands of people from accessing the treatment of choice for a deadly infection.
At the center of the new concerns, of course, is hedge-fund investor turned pharmaceutical executive Martin Shkreli, who raised the price of the drug to treat toxoplasmosis by 5000 percent, who recently led a move to purchase the company that makes a treatment for the parasite-borne Chagas disease and then announced plans to raise the price of that drug to the stratospheric levels of new hepatitis treatments, and who was arrested this morning on unrelated charges.
In November global health treatment advocates and implementers already were expressing continuing concerns about the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Priority Review Voucher program for neglected diseases in a letter to the U.S. Senate HELP Committee while Shkreli led a group of investors buying up shares of a faltering drug company called KaloBios, and became its new CEO. Domestic advocates in the meantime, continued to wait for Shkeli to fulfill a promise made in September to bring down the price of the toxoplasmosis treatment Daraprim, which had skyrocketed under his leadership of the company manufacturing that drug. Instead, he had moved on, announcing plans to get FDA approval for the KaloBios Chagas disease medicine benznidazole, and raise its price at least a thousand percent. It is a price hike the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative stated, in a response to the plan, would pose “a direct threat to access to affordable benznidazole both in the U.S. and Latin America.” An estimated 5.7 million people are infected with Chagas, mostly in Latin America, while the U.S. is home to an estimated 300,000 Chagas patients, the initiative noted. Also concerning for neglected diseases advocates was the Priority Review Voucher that KaloBios stood to receive in getting FDA approval for the neglected tropical disease treatment, — albeit one that it had done nothing to discover. A voucher recently was sold for $350 million, the initiative noted.
In the meantime, Market Watch reports this morning that after Shkreli was checked into the Graybar Hotel this morning on charges related to business dealings at his previous company, the value of his stock in KaloBios dropped by $28 million.