WASHINGTON, Sept. 22 (UPI) -- Martin Shkreli, CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, has defended the 5,000 percent price increase of the drug Daraprim, often used to treat toxoplasmosis in people with compromised immune systems like AIDS patients.
In August, Turing Pharmaceuticals acquired Daraprim, which was first developed in 1953, and the company immediately increased the price of the drug from $13.50 per pill to $750 each.
The price increase raised the average treatment costs for patients from about $1,130 a year to $63,000. Certain patients may need to pay up to $634,000 each year for Daraprim treatment.
Daraprim, known generically as pyrimethamine, treats toxoplamosis, an infection caused by the Toxoplasma gondii parasite, one of the world's most common parasites. The parasite can enter its host when people eat under-cooked meat or drink contaminated water.
Although toxoplamosis isn't considered dangerous in people who are generally healthy, for people who are pregnant or have a weakened immune system, such as AIDS or cancer patients, the effects of the infection can be severe. Daraprim is also used to treat malaria.
"Why was it necessary to raise the price of Daraprim so drastically?" CBS News correspondent Don Dahler asked Shkreli.
"Well, it depends on how you define so drastically. Because the drug was unprofitable at the former price, so any company selling it would be losing money. And at this price it's a reasonable profit. Not excessive at all," Shkreli responded.
The price of Daraprim was about $1 per pill several years ago before it was acquired by CorePharma and prices progressively increased before the price surge by Turing in August.
"This is a disease where there hasn't been one pharmaceutical company focused on it for 70 years. We're now a company that is dedicated to the treatment and cure of toxoplasmosis. And with these new profits we can spend all of that upside on these patients who sorely need a new drug, in my opinion," Shkreli added.
Shkreli told The New York Times that Daraprim is so rarely used that the impact on the health system would be small. He also said Turing would use Daraprim profits to develop improved treatments for toxoplasmosis with fewer side effects.
"This isn't the greedy drug company trying to gouge patients, it is us trying to stay in business," Shkreli said. "This is still one of the smallest pharmaceutical products in the world. It really doesn't make sense to get any criticism for this."
"Price gouging like this in the specialty drug market is outrageous," Clinton said in reference to the Daraprim price surge.
Clinton on Tuesday unveiled a plan to force pharmaceutical companies to reinvest profits into research, while also making the companies allow more generic and imported drugs.
Earlier this month, Sanders said he intends to introduce legislation to stop increases in drug prices.
"The skyrocketing prices of prescription drugs are an example of the web of bureaucracy and red tape in the American healthcare system. What we need is a national health care system that puts people ahead of profits and health ahead of special interests," Sanders said in a statement.