Big U.S. pharmacies square off on Daraprim supplies

Fri Dec 18, 2015 1:00am EST
 
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By Deena Beasley

Dec 18 (Reuters) - As Turing Pharmaceuticals Chief Executive Officer Martin Shkreli contends with charges of securities fraud, major U.S. pharmacies are moving to assure patients of continued access to the company's key drug, Daraprim.

Shkreli was arrested on Thursday for engaging in what U.S. prosecutors said was a Ponzi-like scheme at his former hedge fund and a pharmaceutical company he previously headed . Turing officials did not respond to multiple requests for comment on the company's future plans regarding Shkreli or its drug distribution.

Leading pharmacy chain Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc, currently the exclusive U.S. supplier of Daraprim, said it has inventory of the drug, which has a list price of $750 per dose. But growing public backlash against that price has resulted in the entry of new competitors - compounding pharmacies able to produce similar versions for a fraction of the cost.

CVS Health Corp, the No. 2 U.S. drug benefit manager, told Reuters on Thursday it can provide an alternative to Daraprim that is compounded by Avella Specialty Pharmacy, at a price of $30 per 30 pills. The 62-year-old treatment is used to fight parasitic infections in AIDS patients, pregnant women and others.

The CVS arrangement is similar to one between Imprimis Pharmaceuticals Inc, a compounding pharmacy based in San Diego, and Express Scripts Holdings Inc, the largest U.S. manager of prescription drug plans, to offer lower-cost pyrimethamine, the generic version of Daraprim.

Compounding pharmacies operate differently from drug manufacturers whose treatments must be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for mass sale. Instead, such pharmacies can prepare medications only for individual patients once they have a prescription, and must comply with state and federal regulations.

Meanwhile, several major medical groups have started to urge doctors to seek out such lower-cost alternatives to Daraprim, providing detailed instructions on how to do so.

Walgreens said in an emailed statement that it has "urged Turing to expand the number of specialty pharmacies to promote greater access, and it is our understanding that they will be doing so in the near future." Turing officials could not be reached for comment.   Continued...