Selling life-saving pharmaceuticals for a profit has always been a distasteful venture; it raises all sorts of uncomfortable ethical questions about how much we really value a life and how much of an advantage will be taken from those who require it. But then there are some people who shock the world with their utter selfishness and complete disregard for needs or even lives of others.
One particularly shameless ex-fund manager has made headlines around the world for founding a company which bought the rights to old drugs and then jack up the prices to exorbitant rates. Martin Shkreli, a former hedge fund manager already under investigation for financial misconduct, decided that malaria patients aren’t paying their “fair share” for their sickness, as reported The New York Times:
Specialists in infectious disease are protesting a gigantic overnight increase in the price of a 62-year-old drug that is the standard of care for treating a life-threatening parasitic infection.
The drug, called Daraprim, was acquired in August by Turing Pharmaceuticals, a start-up run by a former hedge fund manager. Turing immediately raised the price to $750 a tablet from $13.50, bringing the annual cost of treatment for some patients to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Daraprim, which is also used to treat malaria, was approved by the F.D.A. in 1953 and has long been made by GlaxoSmithKline. Glaxo sold United States marketing rights to CorePharma in 2010. Last year, Impax Laboratories agreed to buy Core and affiliated companies for $700 million. In August, Impax sold Daraprim to Turing for $55 million, a deal announced the same day Turing said it had raised $90 million from Mr. Shkreli and other investors in its first round of financing.
Daraprim cost only about $1 a tablet several years ago, but the drug’s price rose sharply after CorePharma acquired it. According to IMS Health, which tracks prescriptions, sales of the drug jumped to $6.3 million in 2011 from $667,000 in 2010, even as prescriptions held steady at about 12,700. In 2014, after further price increases, sales were $9.9 million, as the number of prescriptions shrank to 8,821.
His actions are a symbol of everything that is wrong with the American healthcare system. The casual manipulation of drug prices have ripple effects on people’s lives across the world, putting the survival of sick humans in the hands of greedy plutocrats. The Daily Kos noted that “the people for whom it is a serious problem and life-threatening are those infected with HIV, those diagnosed with AIDS, cancer patients, or who have otherwise compromised immune systems. These are often the people who can least afford to bear ridiculously inflated drug costs imposed solely to line the pockets of hedge fund managers.” The drug only costs $1 to make.
Mr. Shkreli feels no remorse: “We know, these days, in modern pharmaceuticals, cancer drugs can cost $100,000 or more, whereas these drugs can cost a half of a million dollars. Daraprim is still under-priced relative to its peers.”
The maintenance of health and preservation of life is a human right that should take precedence over the wallet of a hedge fund manager, especially one who is already under investigation for financial misconduct in previous projects. Healthcare should not be just another tool for capitalists to make a profit from, and one of the biggest issues facing our nation is reforming our medical system, lowering the absurd and artificial costs and turning it into a public service instead of just another way for Wall Street to extract dollars from the working families of America.
Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.