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How Shkreli's Turing Pharmaceuticals Sought to Placate the HIV Community About Its Drug Price Hike

February 3, 2016

On Feb. 2, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, ranking member of the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, released two memos in advance of an upcoming hearing on drastic increases in drug costs. One memo reveals that former Turing CEO Martin Shkreli and his colleagues were advised of the potential threat of HIV activists bringing scrutiny to the huge returns the company would gain from gaming public health and destroying hospital budgets by raising the price of Daraprim. Daraprim treats toxoplasmosis, a rare condition that can be an opportunistic infection in people with HIV with advanced immune system suppression.

The Cummings memo includes emails, presentations and internal documents revealing the company's strategies and its leaders' glee in the massive profits they would garner:

On August 27, 2015, Mr. Shkreli sent an email to another outside contact, writing: "I think it will be huge. We raised the price from $1,700 per bottle to $75,000. ... So 5,000 paying bottles at the new price is $375,000,000 -- almost all of it is profit and I think we will get 3 years of that or more. Should be a very handsome investment for all of us. Let's all cross our fingers that the estimates are accurate."

But there was one big threat to their profitable scheme.

"The documents obtained by the Committee indicate that company executives anticipated a potential backlash in response to Daraprim's price increase, but believed that physicians generally are not sensitive to price increases and that HIV/AIDS advocates -- while organized and vocal -- could be managed," explains the memo.

How would the HIV community be managed? It seems by encouraging them to sit it out by making them think it was a fight between Turing and penny-pinching insurance companies, by buying them off with patient education programs and by telling the Human Rights Campaign to chill out.

Well, apparently that didn't work, because widespread and vocal opposition from the HIV community stretched from online furor to the lobby of the Turing Pharmaceuticals' office building.

TheBody.com took a look at what the memo reveals about Turing's strategy to defuse the HIV community:

"HIV patient advocacy may react to price increase. ... HIV community is highly organized, sensitive, and action-oriented."


"Significant price increases that disproportionately affect this community could result in backlash from patient advocacy groups, particularly if payers increase cost sharing with patients."


"Many feel the number of toxoplasmosis patients is too small to stimulate a significant lobbying effort were the cost of therapy to become an issue."


"With the inflammatory coverage of the last two days, it will be difficult to get HIV/AIDS KOLs [key opinion leaders] to spoke out [sic] on behalf of Turing. However, we still come out ahead if we can frame this issue within the HIV/AIDS community as a fight between a drug company and insurance companies."


"HRC [Human Rights Campaign] has been vocal and in the media about the pricing issue and is potentially the most vocal organization able to garner media coverage. While their motivation is primarily political given their actions we feel it would be important to get a meeting with CEO Chad Griffin in an attempt to slow their aggressive stance and work with them to better understand the company."


"As long as everyone who needs Daraprim can get it as soon as they need it, regardless of ability to pay, the community should have no issue. There is no love lost between HIV/AIDS activists and insurance companies, and they certainly don't want to be manipulated by them to fight on their behalf."


"With the price increase comes new research, support systems, patient education and greater awareness, so pragmatically and strategically, the community shouldn't advocate against its own interests. If we can get HIV/AIDS activists to 'sit this out,' we come out way ahead."


Given that outrage about the Daraprim price raise helped bring the issue of out-of-control drug pricing to the floor of Congress and the headlines of the presidential race, it should be noted that "sitting it out" is not an option when it comes to the HIV community and its relentless quest for access to treatment for all.

JD Davids is the managing editor for TheBody.com and TheBodyPRO.com.

Follow JD on Twitter: @JDAtTheBody.


Copyright © 2016 Remedy Health Media, LLC. All rights reserved.


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This article was provided by TheBody.com.
 

 

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