Turing Pharmaceuticals made Daraprim, a medication used by HIV patients, incredibly expensive, now Express Scripts is working to create a generic, more affordable version of the drug.
Turing Pharmaceuticals made Daraprim, a medication used by HIV patients, incredibly expensive, now Express Scripts is working to create a generic, more affordable version of the drug. - 
Listen To The Story
Marketplace

The price of prescription drugs has become something of a flashpoint in recent weeks, due in no small part to something that the company Turing Pharmaceuticals did, when it hiked the price of Daraprim, a pill often used by HIV patients and pregnant women, from $13.50 to $750 a dose.

But now Express Scripts, which purchases drugs for insurers and large employers, will work with a different pharmaceutical firm, Imprimis, to make a generic version of that drug for a dollar a pill.

Not many Americans take the 50-year old drug Daraprim — maybe 2,000 people a year. But for those who need it, the price hike was a sock to the jaw, said Dr. Steve Miller, chief medical officer of Express Scripts.  

“That’s an enormous challenge to cover the medicine,” he said.

Turing’s move made national headlines and immediately shoved the entire pharmaceutical industry under the microscope. Miller says for decades, insurers and employers have basically had to swallow whatever prices the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) spooned out. What’s important about what happened Tuesday is that rather than pay the price, Express Scripts sought out a partner to make an alternative drug cheaper.

“This is a message to them that the marketplace will respond and be creative in finding solutions,” he said.

In a statement, Turing's chief commercial officer, Nancy Retzlaff, said the company is “committed to ensuring access to patients who need Daraprim.” She said the company has recently “announced significant price reductions for hospitals.”

University of Chicago economist Rena Conti said prices may keep dropping in the wake of Express Scripts' move. That’s because Turing no longer has a stranglehold on the market.

“For generic drugs that have experienced price spikes, one easy way to get prices to come down is to simply allow more suppliers into the market,” she said.

Adam Fein with Pembroke Consulting said this is a “short-term solution” that won’t necessarily work for other generic drugs experiencing price spikes.

A longer-term solution, he says, is “if the Food and Drug Administration clears the 4,000 generic drug applications it has backlogged,” he said. “Then you will see the price of generic drugs drop.”

 

Follow Dan Gorenstein at @dmgorenstein