Injustices on Medicine

Wil McLaughlin, Contributing Columnist

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In the past two weeks or so, the world has been exploding with rage against Martin Shkreli, the CEO of a drug company that now makes the life-saving medication Pyrimethamine, also known as Daraprim. Shkreli’s company bought the patent for the drug this past year and Shkreli decided to jack up the price by 5,000 percent. This brought the price of a single pill up from $13.50 to $700. That isn’t a typo. This one guy made an essential medication unattainable to many, many people across the United States.

One may ask:  “Aren’t there other drugs that they can take?” Or “Aren’t there other manufacturers?” Or my favorite question: “How is this legal?” To put this in perspective, Daraprim has been available since the 1950s. It treats nasty protozoan infections, along with some fungi. Daraprim is also used to stop opportunistic infections in HIV-positive people. The World Health Organization places this drug on its list of “Essential Medicines,” further stressing the importance.

Yes, there are other medications one could take, though this drug used to be one of the cheapest and most used before Shkreli did his business with it. Furthermore, Shkreli has drastically altered the distribution system, making it only available through Walgreens. So, not only has he made it obscenely expensive, he made it harder to get for a whole lot of people. This move, he claims, was to prevent other companies from making cheaper copies of the drug. Never mind that people in other nations (Brazil and the UK come to mind) can get this medication for far cheaper than in the United States, even before Shkreli came in like a wrecking ball. There are currently no other manufacturers in the United States.

As for the legality, the answer is “yes.” Every single action Martin Shkreli took to swindle people was legal. Moral? Of course not. Martin Shkreli has a long history of questionable actions ranging from harassment, raising the prices of other cheap drugs, and manipulating the law on stocks. This time, everyone in the world knows about it.

Here’s the catch: Daraprim is so old that the protected patent on it expired. Cool, right? However, there’s this little, nitpicky loophole in patent law that makes it impossible for other companies to make this medication, according to Derek Lowe at  Science Translational Medicine Magazine. When a company buys the rights to an outdated patent, the government gives them a protected status, again refusing to let others from making the drug so the company can explore new properties of the drug. Shkreli exploited this rule, virtually renewing the patent and eliminating all competitors. Once this was done, he raised the price to his immoral level. Needless to say, no evidence has been shown that Shkreli plans to modify or experiment with the drug in any way. Everything was entirely legal, all in the name of profit.

If this makes your blood boil and steam come out your ears, then you’re still sane. An act so immoral, so careless, should never be allowed to happen again. This drug (and other drugs that this could happen to) is a lifesaver.

Unless a company provides evidence of new research on a drug, then the FDA should not renew the patent. Period. If a company felt like conducting research on Daraprim, they could have manufactured it for themselves and customers, given the patent had expired. There was no need to buy the patent in the first place if they just wanted to experiment with the thing. The only explanation of why this occurred is obvious: to eliminate the laws of supply and demand through the patent system and have a monopoly on the product.

Protests have since occurred around the headquarters of Turing Pharmaceuticals. Maybe, just maybe, a popular voice on the subject could stop this corporate greed. Shkreli has said he plans to lower the price of the drug from the $700 mark, but has conveniently omitted some details.

On a final note, even Donald Trump dislikes this guy. Maybe we could built a YOOGE wall around Turing Pharmaceuticals and make them pay for it too. #DeportMartinShkreli

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Injustices on Medicine