A drug that fights a common parasite preying on people with weakened immune systems has spiked in price by 5,000 percent to $750 per pill.
Daraprim (pyrimethamine) treats toxoplasmosis, the second most common food-borne disease, which easily affects people suffering from AIDS and cancer.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 60 million people in the United States may carry toxoplasmosis which can affect the brain potentially leading to blindness and brain damage.
Turing Pharmaceuticals of New York raised the price of Daraprim from $13.50 per pill last month after buying the rights for the drug from Impax Laboratories.
“This is a tremendous increase,” said Judith Aberg, a spokesperson for the HIV Medicine Association. “Even patients with insurance could have trouble affording the medication. That’s because insurance companies often put high-price drugs in the ‘specialty’ category, requiring patients to pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars a year. Patients whose insurance plans require them to pay 20 percent of the cost — a common practice — would shell out $150 a pill.”
The disease can be life threatening and it’s transmitted by eating under-cooked meat, cooking with contaminated knives and boards, drinking unclean water, and contact with infected cat feces. Pregnant mothers can pass it to their children, and organ transplant patients can get it through an infected donor.
“It [Daraprim] makes the difference between whether people see or don’t see, whether babies grow to live happy lives with families or not,” said Rima McLeod, medical director at the University of Chicago Toxoplasmosis Center.
Aberg says there are no alternative drugs for Daraprim and other treatments aren’t strong enough.
Craig Rothenberg, a spokesperson for Turing defended the price increase by saying it will fund further research for toxoplasmosis treatments. He also said the company is working with hospitals and providers to offer co-pay assistance programs, and no-cost options to uninsured patients.
“There has been no innovation in dealing with toxoplasmosis,” Rothenberg said. “That has been a long neglect in the patient community.”