Thursday, October 8, 2015

Parasitic pharmaceutical pirate: Martin Shkreli edition

How do you spell scum? Shkreli
It's been two weeks since Turing CEO Martin Shkreli announced he would scale back the price of his drug, and so far nothing has really changed.
The biotech leader came under fire last month for his 5,000% price hike of Daraprim, a drug that fights parasitic infections.
The drug, which rose from $13.50 to $750 seemingly overnight, left the biotech and pharmaceutical industries reeling, with corporations such as Valeant facing a lot of criticism for their similar price-hike moves.
In September, he told ABC News, “We’ve agreed to lower the price of Daraprim to a point that is more affordable and is able to allow the company to make a profit, but a very small profit."
That hasn't happened yet. A 30-day, 30-pill supply of Daraprim would cost me $27,006 at my local pharmacy.
That boils down to about $900 a pill, which includes the wholesale cost, along with specific pharmacy fees based on the zip code I gave the pharmacy.
So while the price of the drug hasn't gotten any higher since Shkreli hiked it 5,000%, it hasn't gotten any lower since he promised to reduce it either. Turing did not respond to Business Insider's request for clarification about this price.
Back in the day, moral psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg tested people's moral development using the Heinz story:
 A woman was near death from a special kind of cancer. There was one drug that the doctors thought might save her. It was a form of radium that a druggist in the same town had recently discovered. The drug was expensive to make, but the druggist was charging ten times what the drug cost him to produce. He paid $200 for the radium and charged $2,000 for a small dose of the drug. The sick woman's husband, Heinz, went to everyone he knew to borrow the money, but he could only get together about $1,000 which is half of what it cost. He told the druggist that his wife was dying and asked him to sell it cheaper or let him pay later. But the druggist said: “No, I discovered the drug and I'm going to make money from it.” So Heinz got desperate and broke into the man's laboratory to steal the drug for his wife. Should Heinz have broken into the laboratory to steal the drug for his wife? Why or why not?
Using that example in classes often led to incredulity on the part of the students: they couldn't believe that the druggist charge such an extortionate amount of money. Clearly, they lacked the moral imagination of a predatory pharmaceutical pirate like Shkreli.

At least in the Heinz story, the druggist actually discovered and manufactured the drug. In Shkreli's case, he bought up a company which  manufactured the drug, which had been discovered many decades before and whose patent had expired, for the explicit purpose of jacking up the price to stratospheric levels while there were no competitors manufacturing it.

Forget about the Heinz story. In the Shkreli case, the moral answer is to steal the drug back from Shkreli. Property rights have their limitations.

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