Turmoil over drug daraprim: $750 per tablet

Martin Shkreli buys the rights to an antibiotic and increases its price by 5,500 percent. Politicians are powerless to stop him.

An ex-hedge fund manager and current pharma start-up entrepreneur has raised the price of the drug by 5,500 percent. Photo: dpa

The health policy performance offered by Martin Shkreli this week was a pitch for all pharma haters. "Obscene," "disgusting," "greedy" – these were the comments on the net when it became known: Former U.S. hedge fund manager and current pharma start-up entrepreneur Shkreli, 32, has acquired the rights to the drug Daraprim in the U.S. and raised its price overnight by 5,500 – in words: five thousand five hundred – percent: from $13.50 to $750. Per tablet.

Daraprim is an antibiotic against toxoplasmosis, an infectious disease often suffered by cancer and AIDS patients. An unscrupulous young entrepreneur who enriches himself from the seriously ill? Those who can get past the tirades of anger may ask: Are we really powerless? Daraprim has been on the market since 1953. The patent protection has expired. Why is there no cheap imitation drug, if necessary developed by the public health systems?

And pharmaceutical prices do not fall from the sky. Politicians have the power to control and regulate them. In Germany, for example, there are mandatory price negotiations between health insurance funds and manufacturers, which can certainly be improved. Mandatory discounts have also proven their worth. The EU health ministers recently discussed a European standard price for Sovaldi, another very expensive hepatitis C drug. The fact that they did not agree is not the industry’s fault.

In Germany, spending on pharmaceuticals rose by 10.3 percent in 2014 to 35.4 billion euros, a record. We cannot avoid discussing what price we are willing to pay for our health.

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For years, health economists, lawyers and physicians have been calling for cost-benefit assessments of medicines to curb the price spiral – to no avail. Because politically it is considered fie to tell sick people what would be honest: We only buy the industry’s drugs if their costs are justified in relation to their benefits.

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