CHICAGO — Patients suffering from a rare parasitic disease will soon have a low-price alternative to Daraprim, the lifesaving drug sold exclusively by Walgreens for $750 a pill.
Express Scripts, the nation's largest pharmacy benefits manager, said Tuesday that it will partner with Imprimis Pharmaceuticals, a small drug compounder that recently began making an alternative medicine for $1 a capsule. The partnership would make the pill available to millions of people whose pharmacy benefit is managed by Express Scripts.
Turing Pharmaceuticals, a privately held biopharmaceutical company run by former hedge fund manager Martin Shkreli, acquired the drug in September and immediately raised the price of the 62-year-old medicine by about 5,000 percent, from $13.50 a pill to $750. The price increase caused a national furor ago over exorbitant prices for prescriptions, including older, established drugs and meant some patients or their insurers suddenly would be paying hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for treatment.
Express Scripts and Imprimis said they expect prescriptions for the alternative medicine to be processed starting as early as this week for Express Scripts patients who need the treatment. The medicine is a customized oral formulation of pyrimethamine (the generic version of Daraprim) and leucovorin (a form of folic acid).
Express Scripts added Imprimis to its network of pharmacies and gave the compounded drug a reimbursement code.
"We believe we now have an extremely cost-effective way to provide access to a Daraprim alternative," Dr. Steve Miller, senior vice president and chief medical officer of Express Scripts, said in a statement. "We will share our solution with other payers to make sure all appropriate patients around the country have access to the treatment they need at the lowest possible price."
Pharmacy benefits managers like Express Scripts manage and pay for prescription drug claims for employers and insurers. They often negotiate drug prices and control access to coverage networks.
The move was immediately hailed by medical providers who treat infectious diseases.