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Pharma CEO blames 5000% hike in AIDS medicine price to 'capitalism'; Hillary Clinton outraged

Speed News Desk | Updated on: 23 September 2015, 13:55 IST

Even as efforts to counter AIDS are on the double world-wide, one man seems to have profit on his mind. Martin Shkreli, CEO of New York-based Turing Pharmaceuticals, has bought Daraprim, a 62-year-old drug for AIDS and cancer patients and drastically hiked its price from $13.50 per pill to $750. This actually amounts to a 5,000 per cent increase.

The news has taken everyone by surprise, including the Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton who took to twitter calling the pricing "outrageous".

However, Shkreli's 'I-don't give a damn' attitude is more than evident with his complete indifference to the repercussions of this move, even after being critically bashed. Defending the price hike which he calls a 'business strategy', Turing said in an interview, "Because the drug was unprofitable at the former price, so any company selling it would be losing money. And at this price it's a reasonable profit. Not excessive at all."

Turing took his defence to another level when he, in a heated Twitter exchange, called John Caroll, the editor of Fierce Biotech (a daily newsletter), "irrelevant" and someone who doesn't "think logically". Caroll was one of the first journalists to question Shkreli about the move. The hot-headed CEO launched a series of personal attacks on Caroll and denied him any additional information.

The average cost for patients could rise to $63,000

Daraprim was developed in 1953 as a treatment for toxoplasmosis, an infection caused by a parasite. It originates from eating under-cooked meat or drinking contaminated water, and affects those with compromised immune systems, like AIDS and cancer patients.

As Turing raised the price of Daraprim to $750 per tablet, the average cost of treatment for patients rose from about $1,130 to $63,000. For certain patients, the cost can go as high as $634,000.

Turing's 'profits' concerns

While Shkreli acknowledged that the move might look "greedy", he said there are "a lot of altruistic properties to it". According to him, "We're now a company that is dedicated to the treatment and cure of toxoplasmosis. And with these new profits, we can spend all of that upside on these patients who sorely need a new drug, in my opinion."

The former hedge fund manager clearly stated, "There's no doubt, I'm a capitalist. I'm trying to create a big drug company, a successful drug company, a profitable drug company."

Reactions against the price rise

Meanwhile, angry consumers lashed out at the company on social networking platforms, calling for a boycott of its products. They also demanded for new laws to prevent pharma companies from taking advantage of consumers in future.

Health advocacy groups have also heavily criticised the company's decision, saying patients should not suffer in the hands of 'profit-earning' drug companies.

Calling the process 'predatory', oncologist and the CBS News medical contributor Dr David Agus said, "Patients shouldn't be taxed and charged for future research and development. Patients should pay for the drug they're getting and what they need in the situation that they are in."

Meanwhile, Hilary Clinton's rival, Bernie Sanders has also sent a letter to Shkreli demanding information on the price hike.

First published: 23 September 2015, 12:48 IST