The only US drugmaker that makes a potential treatment for the coronavirus that was touted by President Donald Trump raised the price by almost 100 per cent in January, as the virus caused havoc across China.
Rising Pharmaceuticals, a New Jersey based company, increased the price of chloroquine — an antimalarial, which is one of the drugs that is being tested against Covid-19 — on January 23, according to data from research firm Elsevier. The drug price rose 97.86 per cent to $7.66 per 250mg pill and $19.88 per 500mg pill.
But Rising said the price rise was “coincidental” and it restored the old price once it realised that the drug might be in demand because of the outbreak. The reversal of the price lift has not yet shown through in the data.
In an interview with the Financial Times, one executive said that the company had originally increased the price because it wanted to be able to invest in new manufacturing facilities to keep the drug on the market.
“As soon as we saw the increase in demand and the potential that this was going to be utilised in the way some folks are projecting it to be, we rescinded that price increase to the same price it has been on the market for since 2015,” he said.
Mr Trump said on Thursday that the Food and Drug Administration had approved chloroquine for the treatment of Covid-19 — but the FDA commissioner contradicted him, saying the regulator was simply taking a closer look at the drug. The drug is already approved for treating malaria.
There is no solid evidence that chloroquine improves the condition of coronavirus patients. But there are several trials under way and the drug is being used on a “compassionate use” basis in some countries.
Small studies have shown positive outcomes, including one in France released on Wednesday that chloroquine had accelerated recoveries and reduced how long patients were contagious. The medicine can have serious side effects, however, including acute poisoning and even death if a patient overdoses.
Michael Rea, chief executive of RxSavings Solutions, which provides software for employers to lower their drug bills, said: “Hiking drug prices at such a pivotal time in world history will not play well in the market for any companies partaking in that activity long term.”
In December 2019, Rising Pharmaceuticals admitted price fixing in a case in Pennsylvania and agreed to pay $3m in fines and restitution. The company did not respond to a request for comment about that case.
The executive speaking on behalf of the company said it is not promoting the drug as a treatment for coronavirus. But Rising received five times as many orders as usual in the last week and it is ramping up production in India to meet demand, purchasing “extraordinary amounts” of more active ingredients, bottles and labels.
“We have no real knowledge of where this is going to end but we are actively keeping up with demand,” he said.