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Drug company that hiked life-saving med by 5,000 percent faces antitrust probe

Martin Shkreli

Screengrab via CNBC/Youtube

Is CEO Martin Shkreli trying to maintain a monopoly on a crucial drug?

The drug company that drew the ire of the Internet after jacking up the price of a life-saving medication is now the target of an antitrust probe brought by the New York attorney general.

Turing Pharmaceuticals CEO Martin Shkreli announced last month that he was lowering the price of Daraprim—an anti-parasitic compound long used to treat an infection called toxoplasmosis in patients with compromised immune systems, like those with HIV or cancer—after the company suffered a PR implosion virtually overnight. The company was accused of price-gouging the infirm after hiking the cost of Daraprim by over 5,000 percent, from $13.50 to $750 a pill.

As of Oct. 9, the cost of Daraprim remained at or above $750, according to an ABC News investigation.

“It appears that Turing may have taken steps to prevent that competition from arising.”

Shkreli, a 32-year-old hedge fund manager, became the “Most-Hated Man in America” and the embodiment of corporate greed, particularly after defending the price hike and comparing his company’s drug to a sports car.

The New York attorney general’s office confirmed to the Daily Dot by phone that it is now investigating whether Turing is intentionally restricting the distribution of Daraprim to impede the creation of a generic variant, the creation of which would presumably hurt Turing’s dominating market share.

“While competition might ordinarily be expected to deter such a massive price increase, it appears that Turing may have taken steps to prevent that competition from arising,” Eric Stock, chief of the New York attorney general’s antitrust bureau, wrote in a letter to Shkreli.

The letter continues: “We understand that Turing is not permitting Daraprim to be sold in retail pharmacies, but rather is distributing it only through a small number of specialty pharmacies. Public reports indicate that the purpose of this restricted distribution scheme is to prevent generic manufacturers from obtaining access to samples of Daraprim for use in bioequivalency (sic) studies, which would in turn inhibit those firms from obtaining FDA approval to sell their competitive drugs.”

Turing did not immediately respond to our request for comment on Stock’s inquiry.

Stock cites a Turing press release, dated Sept. 28, in which Nancy Retzlaff, the company’s chief commercial officer, states that following Turing’s acquisition of Daraprim from Impax Laboratories, “some hospitals and clinics were having trouble accessing the product.” Retzlaff goes on to say the company had developed an “immediate corrective plan to ensure quick, efficient access for patients in need.”

The letter further instructs Turing to contact the New York attorney general’s office immediately, and to “retain all documents that are potentially relevant” to the inquiry.

The attorney general’s office was unable to confirm whether Turing had already responded to the letter. 

H/T WGAL | Screengrab via CNBC/Youtube

Dell Cameron

Dell Cameron

Dell Cameron was a reporter at the Daily Dot who covered security and politics. In 2015, he revealed the existence of an American hacker on the U.S. government's terrorist watchlist. He is a co-author of the Sabu Files, an award-nominated investigation into the FBI's use of cyber-informants. He became a staff writer at Gizmodo in 2017.