American entrepreneur Martin Shkreli is yet again sparking outrage with his pharmaceutical industry maneuverings as he reportedly plans to jack up the cost of yet another life-saving drug – this time, one used to treat the potentially deadly parasitic infection known as Chagas disease.
In November, Mr. Shkreli led a group of investors to buy up controlling interest in what CNBC reported to be a failing biotechnology company based in California. After acquiring the company’s shares on the open market for roughly $1.50 per share — which now sell for more than 18 times that, about $28 a share — he agreed to license the worldwide rights to one variant of the drug, known as benznidazole.
The drug, which has never received FDA approval to be sold in the U.S., is a standard treatment for Chagas in both Central as well as South America — the two continents where the disease is most prolific.
Presently, a complete treatment session’s worth of the drug costs about $50 to $100 in Latin America. The typical treatment session lasts just a couple of months.
In a conference call with KaloBios investors that took place last week, Shkreli indicated that he plans on making the drug’s cost in the United States similar to that of hepatitis C drugs.
For hep-C drugs, a complete course of treatment runs anywhere from $60,000 to almost $100,000.
Currently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides benznidazole to patients free of charge on an experimental basis.
In the U.S., an estimated 300,000 people are afflicted with Chagas and as CNBC reports, virtually all of them are Latin American immigrants who were infected prior to reaching the United States.
The disease is caused by a parasite known as Trypanosoma cruzi, which is found in the feces of the kissing bug. The disease is spread by the kissing bug, which is known to bite people directly on the face.
Prior estimates have placed the number of deaths caused by the disease in the thousands.
In 2006, the disease was estimated to claim the lives of 12,500 people a year.
Earlier this year, Shkreli was in the news after he pulled a similar move with a drug used to treat a parasitic infection.
In regards to his more recent move, UCLA professor Dr. Sheba Meymandi told the New York Times that the Chagas community is “in an uproar and that it’s caused a lot of “angst.”
It’s caused a lot of angst in the Chagas community (…) Everyone’s in an uproar.
In addition to dramatically increasing the cost of the medicine, the 32-year-old New Yorker aims to take advantage of a federal program that rewards vouchers potentially worth hundreds of millions of dollars. In order to obtain such a voucher, Shkreli would merely have to obtain FDA approval for the Chagas drug that is already being used in other countries.
In essence, he would be awarded the voucher not for actually developing a new drug as the program aims to encourage, but for merely receiving FDA approval of the drug, which is already in use elsewhere.
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