Reminiscent of former Turing Pharmaceuticals CEO Martin Shrekli, a different pharma executive defended his company’s 400% price hike on an antibiotic.
Nostrum Laboratories had a “moral requirement to sell the product at the highest price,” Nirmal Mulye, PhD, founder of Nostrum, told the Financial Times. Mulye was referring to the company quadrupling the price of a bottle of nitrofurantoin from $474.75 to $2,392 last month.
Nitrofurantoin, used to treat bladder infections, is on the World Health Organization’s list of essential medicines.
"Manufacturers have been lowering net prices for years. That is, they are providing deeper rebates to PBMs, but those concessions don't go to reduce the cost of new medicines. Beyond a certain level we will have fewer need for new and old medicines if price doesn't cover cost of capital and cost of production." says Robert Goldberg, co-founder and vice president of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest.
The action—and Mulye’s comments—earned a stern tweet from Scott Gottlieb, MD, FDA Commissioner. “There’s no moral imperative to price gouge and take advantage of patients. FDA will continue to promote competition so speculators and those with no regard to public health consequences can’t take advantage of patients who need medicine,” he tweeted.
However, Mulye said Nostrum was responding to a price increase from Casper Pharma, which makes Furadantin, a branded version of the antibiotic. Casper increased the price of its product by 182% between the end of 2015 and March, 2018. Now, each bottle is priced at $2,800.
Nostrum and Casper raised the price of nitrofurantoin after supply shortages of the liquid version. Several pharma makers removed their versions of the drug from the market temporarily to reformulate them, when FDA issued new rules on impurities, resulting in shortages, Financial Times reported.
Mulye also defended the actions of Martin Shkreli, who raised the price on Daraprim for toxoplasmosis 5,000% in late 2015. Shkreli was sent to prison earlier this year on unrelated fraud charges.
“I agree with Martin Shkreli that, when he raised the price of his drug, he was within his rights because he had to reward his shareholders,” Mulye told Financial Times. Turing was the only company making Daraprim at the time, so “he can make make as much money as he can,” Mulye said. “This is a capitalist economy and, if you can’t make money, you can’t stay in business.”
While Mulye said the antibiotic’s price could change again “according to market conditions”, he also launched an attack on FDA. The agency is “incompetent and corrupt” and Nostrum has lost money for several years due to an increase in the fees that drugmakers are required to pay FDA—tantamount to “highway robbery.”
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