The drug industry's villain is at it again

Martin Shkreli has a type.

Shkreli, who is now the CEO of biopharmaceutical company KaloBios, has told investors that he plans to price a drug for a neglected parasitic infection somewhere in the $60,000 to $100,000 per treatment range, the New York Times’ Andrew Pollack reports.

If it sounds familiar, that’s because the 32-year-old pharma CEO came under fire in September for raising the price of another drug used to treat parasitic infections by 5,000%.

In 2014, as the head of Retrophin Inc., Shkreli bumped up the price of a drug called Thiola by 2,000%.

Now he’s looking to do that with a version of benznidazole, a drug that’s used to treat Chagas disease.

Originally developed in the 1970s, the drug never went through the FDA approval steps but is currently provided in the US for free, and used around the world. The parasitic infection comes from the kissing bug that got its name for biting people on the face. It affects an estimated 300,000 people in the US and largely goes under reported.

Once infected, most people don’t have symptoms, or at the very most develop a fever or swelling around the bite site. But for about 30% of those infected, the parasite can cause heart problems if left untreated.

Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine told Business Insider that benznidazole only treats patients with acute Chagas disease.

Unacceptable price

If KaloBios prices benznidazole as high as Shkreli said it will, Hotez said that wouldn’t go well.

“That would be unacceptable,” he said. Because it mostly occurs in people living in poverty, there would virtually be no access to the medication. “It would never be used.”

That’s because there’s another drug used to treat Chagas disease in the US: nifurtimox, which is currently supplied to acute cases in the US by the CDC for free, as is benznidazole.

Hotez said he’s in discussions with Shkreli to figure out how KaloBios can work with the Global Chagas Disease Coalition to find an affordable price for those who need benznidazole in the US.

KaloBios plans to licence the worldwide rights to benznidazole, which it acquired earlier this month. Where the company could make a profit is in the US rights to the drug, Pollack writes.

That can either come from sales of the drug at a high cost, or — more likely — through the FDA’s priority review voucher, granted to companies who develop treatments for neglected diseases as an way to add incentives on drugs that otherwise wouldn’t have much commercial value.

The voucher can then be used by the company to speed up its review time for another drug, or it can be sold to another company that wants to fast-track its drug by a few months.

Priority review vouchers have been sold for up to $350 million.

According to the New York Times, Shkreli said that he expects benznidazole to be approved by the FDA in about a year.

The paper reports another company is also trying to get benznidazole approved in the US, which means KaloBios’ version will face direct competition once it’s approved.

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