And the CEO says the company is still making a profit.
Imprimis Pharmaceuticals, a specialty pharmaceutical company that creates compounded drugs, released a $1 a pill alternative to , a toxoplasmosis treatment whose price skyrocketed by over 5,000% in recent months.
While the new pill is a boon for patients in need of treatment for the food-borne illness, especially those with weak immune systems like HIV/AIDS and cancer patients, the alternative drug is not an exact copy of Daraprim.
Imprimis’ pill is a combination of pyrimethamine—the sole ingredient in Daraprim—and leucovorin, a medicine that helps reverse the negative effects on bone marrow caused by the way pyrimethamine works in the body. The two medicines work synergistically and are recommended to be taken in tandem by the Centers for Disease Control. Leucovorin is often prescribed alongside Daraprim.
Imprimis’ combination drug is not itself approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, but its individual components have received approval. And, according to FDA rules, compounding pharmacies are not allowed to make a pill out of a single commercially available drug. So, pharmaceutical compounder Imprimis is able to offer a cheaper alternative by combining the two treatments into one pill. Doctors can then prescribe it specifically for a patient based on federal and state rules in place for compounded drugs.
The customizable compounded drug is available from Imprimis for $99 for a 100-count bottle. The same number of Daraprim pills would cost $75,000. And Imprimis is still making a profit even at this cost, said CEO Mark Baum.
“We’re not losing money doing this. We’re just not ripping people,” Baum told Fortune. “What we’re doing is putting the power back in the prescription pad and letting doctors choose the best medication for each patient.”
Turing became the poster child for shockingly high drug prices when it raised the price for Daraprim to $750 a pill from $13.50 after it acquired the toxoplasmosis treatment from Impax Laboratories in August. Turing CEO Martin Shkreli has defended the price change, saying that Daraprim’s cost is now in line with other drugs for rare diseases and part of the profits would go towards research and development.
Turing certainly isn’t alone. Valeant Pharmaceuticals VRX has also been in the hot seat after the company was subpoenaed by lawmakers seeking more information on how it prices and distributes its drugs. Valeant CEO J. Michael Pearson recently said the company would back down on its strategy of buying “mispriced drugs” and raising their list prices, devoting its resources to research and development instead.
In light of recent drug price trends, Imprimis IMMY said it hopes to extend access to alternative treatments for costly drugs and has plans to soon identify other less expensive compounded drug options through a new program called Imprimis Cares.