By now, we’ve all heard about Martin Shkreli, the former hedge fund manager who realized he could make more money in the pharmaceutical space and, through his firm Turing Pharmaceuticals, purchased the drug Daraprim. Daraprim is used to treat malaria, and more importantly, helps in treating AIDS patients as well. Prior to Mr. Shkreli’s purchase, Daraprim was selling for around $13.50 per pill. After the purchase, Mr. Shkreli increased the price of Daraprim to $750.00 per pill.
The very idea of doing such a thing, in pricing a drug that patients need, at a certain price simply because there is money to be made, is a very scary proposition for diabetes patients. Kelly Kunik did an excellent job of explaining why HERE.
But the honest truth is, sadly, that this is already happening to People With Diabetes.
I’m not going to call out anyone. I’ve written about costs of drugs and devices HERE and HERE. The truth is that we are already paying a great deal for drugs and devices that keep us healthy and, you know, alive. Unless they’re not great money managers, these companies are making a great deal of profit. They’re certainly generating a lot of revenue. In many cases, they’re generating a lot of revenue for things that haven’t changed much, if at all, for years.
When you’re generating at least over 3.5 billion dollars for your drug in the United States alone, each year, for years at a time, the notion of “We need to price our drug at this level to help fund our development and research” rings hollow. Certainly, research and development must be funded. But if your drug is generating a billion dollars in profit each year in the USA, for example, for ten years, for example, that’s ten billion dollars. If your drug costs a billion, billion and a half to develop, get FDA approval, manufacture, and bring to market, how long does it really take to make enough money on your current drug before you’ve paid the bill for your next drug?
And let’s not forget that sometimes the people making money are the insurance companies who cover our medications or devices. The insulins on my drug provider’s formulary list have changed three times in five years. That is not happening out of patient need. It’s happening out of corporate greed. The drug provider cuts a deal with a drug maker or manufacturer, puts the drug on the formulary list, takes the drug maker they could not cut a deal with off the formulary list, and in each case, take their own slice of the pie.
I haven’t even gotten to the question of generic insulin yet. But each year that goes by with no generics or low cost options for a 95 year old drug, ever increasing prices for existing medications, and no reasonable explanation of why gets me a little bit hotter under the collar. Oh, and by the way, no one in the federal government is stepping up to try and rein in the gouging of patients, even if doing so might actually help save a few dollars for Medicare and Medicaid, and by extension, our federal budget.
I’m grateful for the contributions that device and drug makers have made toward improving our lives with diabetes. That we must pay such a dear premium for these contributions, simply because we’re stuck with a disease we can’t get rid of, should be too high a price to pay in a world in which a great deal of money has already been made on these things.
In the end, it may have been Shkreli’s instant robber baron tendencies that caused such a public uproar, causing him to lower the price of daraprim a bit after the initial announcement. A competitor making a similar drug has lowered their price to just $1.00 per pill, further cutting into his new venture. I fear that large companies with careful, experienced number crunchers and public relations machines may be doing a much more savvy job of getting us to the same point, without many realizing it.
I hate to say it, but when I look at the numbers, it looks to me like People With Diabetes are already being Shkrelied by the companies we rely on for insulin, insulin pumps, and the like. I think it should be okay for us to say so, or at least ask why. And we deserve an honest accounting.