Turing Pharmaceutical's controversial move to boost the price it charges for Daraprim from $13.50 a pill to $750 has at least one competitor pledging to offer an equivalent compound that treats a rare parasitic disease -- for just $1 a dose.
"Even at that price, we are going to make a lot of money," Mark Baum, founder of San Diego-based Imprimis Pharmaceuticals (IMMY), told CBS MoneyWatch in a phone interview. "We're just not going to gouge people."
The decision by former hedge-fund manager Martin Shkreli, who runs Turing Pharmaceuticals, to raise the price of his company's drug by 5,000 percent sparked a national debate over the role escalating drug prices play in driving up health care costs. Daraprim, which is mostly administered to pregnant women, cancer patients and AIDS patients, has been around for over 60 years and is made by compounding active ingredients pyrimethamine and leucovorin.
"This is just the tip of the iceberg. We have had financial types for a few years now buying up the sole-source generics like they would baseball cards or other collectibles, and then just jacking up the price. There's no real innovation," Baum told CBS MoneyWatch.
He said tremendous savings can be realized if physicians take the time to write out the actual active ingredients for their patient, instead of taking the short cut of using the generic's trade name for the prescription. "All of the ingredients we are using are made in FDA-regulated laboratories," Baum said.
Imprimis' business plan, according to its website, is to do end runs around the conventional drug industry by "using compounding pharmacies for the formulation and distribution of high quality, proprietary formulations that are supported by the clinical experience of physicians and their patients."
Imprimis is most widely known for its bid to upend the post-procedure care for cataract surgery. "Right now we have 80-year-olds having to use eyedrops 175 times over 30 days at a cost of $750," said Baum. "We have a one-time single eye injection that has been successfully used for 100,000 procedures and could save up to $13 billion over the next 10 years."
Imprimis works with hundreds of physicians and pharmacists around the world who suggest their own formulations using preapproved FDA ingredients for potential new applications. "Right now, we don't see a lot of new innovation because the formal FDFA approval process for a new drug takes years and costs $2.6 billion," said Baum. "We have to think out of the box."
Baum says so far the FDA and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services have been slow to recognize the potential savings that could be realized using the Imprimis strategy.