The internet’s favorite villain, Martin Shkreli of Turing Pharmaceuticals, strikes again! Only this time, Shkreli and his band of investors have their eyes on the poverty-stricken, Chagas disease. Mr. Shrkeli is awaiting the FDA-awarded voucher to begin sales of benznidazole, the lone treatment for Chagas disease in the United States. Inevitably, Shkreli will scandalously use the limited supply in today’s “niche” market to his advantage and will expectedly pull an analogous price hike stunt with benznidazole (as he did infamously with Daraprim last month)
Chagas disease is caused by infection with protozoan parasite Trypanosoma cruzi. Humans are infected when they are bitten (typically on the face) by Triatominae, also known as the kissing bug. Chagas disease may also transmit congenitally (mother to offspring), through blood transfusion or organ transplants, and/or by consuming contaminated products in food or water3. Although an estimated 300,000 people are affected in the United States, only 3,000-7,000 patients will demand treatment for Chagas diseases annually.
Benznidazole, a semi-antique antiparasitic drug, was developed by Roche Pharmaceuticals in the 70’s to combat Chagas disease. In early December, KaloBios, a small pharmaceutical company in California announced its acquisition of the benznidazole program. Coincidentally, Martin Shkreli and his investors had just taken over KaloBios in the preceding month.
As Shkreli continue to live up to his reputation as the “most hated” person in America, investors are (not surprisingly) pouring in their money to back his purely financial-oriented business maneuvers. Upon Shkreli’s take over of KaloBios Pharmaceuticals, the company’s’ stocks valuation soared from roughly just over $1 to $28 dollars almost overnight. The fact that our healthcare sector (as a whole), and the pharmaceutical industry (singly) failed to acknowledge parallel ethical issues in the past is troublesome. By not addressing these issues, are we giving the green light to maximize monetary profit at the expense of surrendering the quality of healthcare?
In a recent interview with Forbes, Shkreli bluntly stated that he “should have raised prices higher” (with Daraprim) because as CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, his job is to maximize profit and not to improve patient care outcomes.1 He went on to proclaim the “dirty truth” that “shareholders expect” him “to make the most profit.”1 As an enthusiast of free enterprise and American capitalism, I cannot deny Mr. Shkreli the use of his corporate, paper chasing logic in defending his devious actions. On the contrary, from a student pharmacist and a soon-to-be healthcare provider perspective, I urge pharmaceutical corporations to replace executive officers who lack the fundamental compassion for welfare of humanity.
I believe America owes it to Mr. Shkreli, not so much exploiting loopholes to swindle the sick, but for his arrogant, brusque PR approach to remind us that our healthcare system is flawed. According to the World Human Organization, the 10 biggest pharmaceutical companies (US and Europe) garners a handsome 30% profit margin2, and it does so frequently at the cost of patient’s well-being. There’s just something absurdly wrong about six figures charges for a month supply of a life-saving medication in a country that leads the world in scientific, medical, and technological innovations.
In fear of being under same spotlight, big pharmaceutical companies distant themselves as far away from Shkreli as they possibly can and has nothing nice to say about him. Let it be a reminder that Shkreli is merely a pawn in the drug price-jacking scheme; and that much bigger, more powerful players have been manipulating the same loopholes for years. People like Shkreli will not go away by themselves and we cannot place our trust in pharmaceutical companies to voluntarily reduce prices in exchange for diminished returns. What we need are healthcare reforms. Reforms that will fix price-gouging issues, implement profit caps, and deliver unprecedented transparency to the pharmaceutical industry.
Feature photo credit: http://difficultrun.nathanielgivens.com/2015/09/30/shkreli-product-of-capitalism-or-red-tape/