- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Senate announced a bipartisan investigation Wednesday into potential price gouging on prescription drugs after a speculator bought the patent for an AIDS treatment and announced he was hiking the price more than 5000 percent.

“Some of the recent actions we’ve seen in the pharmaceutical industry — with corporate acquisitions followed by dramatic increases in the prices of pre-existing drugs — have looked like little more than price gouging,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill, Missouri Democrat. “We need to get to the bottom of why we’re seeing huge spikes in drug prices that seemingly have no relationship to research and development costs.”

Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican, and Mrs. McCaskill, respectively the chairwoman and the ranking Democrat on the Special Committee on Aging, said they’ll lead the probe, which has already fired off letters to four pharmaceutical companies that hiked prices for drugs recently: Valeant Pharmaceuticals, Retrophin Inc., Rodelis Therapeutics and Turing Pharmaceuticals.

The senators have requested information on cost histories of the drugs, selling prices by country, and an explanation for why the hikes were needed.

In September, Turing announced it had purchased the patent for Daraprim, a drug often used to treat AIDS, and would raise the price from $13.50 a pill to $750 a pill — putting it out of reach for many patients.

“There are no generic alternatives because it used to be so affordable,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, Connecticut Democrat, who joined House Democrats in urging a similar probe in their chamber.

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Turing’s CEO Martin Shkreli, a former hedge fund manager, became a top target for lawmakers and presidential candidates alike when he defended the price hike.

“Price-gouging like this in the specialty drug market is outrageous,” Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Rodham Clinton said in a Twitter post.

House Democrats, meanwhile, had been pressuring the Oversight Committee to investigate, but said Wednesday they were tired of waiting, and announced their own task force.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky, Illinois Democrat, questioned the price of a hepatitis C drug, which could cost up to $150,000 for a single round of treatment.

“We have a hepatitis C cure, but you can’t afford it,” she said.

In a recent study from the Kaiser Family Foundation, 77 percent of all Americans cited the costs of prescription medication as their number one health care priority.

Mr. Shkreli, the Turing chief, has since said his company would look into lowering prices, but no change has been announced.

The publicity from the case has prompted scrutiny of other companies. Valeant Pharmaceuticals acquired the rights to Cuprimine, a drug to treat Wilson’s Disease, and Isuprel and Nitropress, drugs that treat cardiac arrest. They hiked the price of Cuprimine from $888 for 100 tablets to $26,189. Nitropress shot up from $215.46 per vial to $1,346.62 and Isuprel went from $4,489 for 25 capsules to $36,811.

Rodelis Therapeutics in August bought Seromycin, the brand name for cycloserine, which treats drug-resistant tuberculosis. The price jumped from $500 for 30 pills to $10,800. After much criticism, they sold the drug back to the Chao Center in September, a nonprofit organization associated with the Purdue Research Foundation.

The Chao Center had been selling it for $500 for 30 capsules, but raised the price to $1,050 after they got the rights back — a move the center says is because they needed to recoup losses.

Retrophin Inc., had bought the rights to Thiola, a drug used to treat kidney disease, and raised the price from $1.50 a tablet to $30 a tablet.

Retrophin denied that it was trying to make profits from buying existing patents, saying its goal it to develop new and promising medications.

“Pharmaceutical pricing that strikes the right balance between affordability and enabling innovation is an issue of legitimate concern for patients and the industry, and we look forward to sharing our views with the special committee,” a company spokesperson said. “We are committed to ensuring that all our therapies are available at minimal or no cost to patients.”

Turing, Valeant and Rodelis did not respond to requests for comment.

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