Can crowdfunding provide money for the production of out-of-patent medicine? Can citizen science be used to supervise the pharma industry?
In August 2015, Turing Pharmaceuticals obtained the manufacturing license for pyrimethamine, marketed as Daraprim. The drug is a cure for toxoplasmosis, a severe infectious disease that strikes people with a weakened immune system, including patients with AIDS and people undergoing chemotherapy.
Daraprim is one of the most important medications needed in a basic health system. In September 2015, Turing Pharmaceuticals raised the price of this potentially life-saving drug from $13.50 to $750. The patents for Daraprim expired a long time ago, but the market is small. Nevertheless Turing Pharmaceuticals had aquired the only US producer – and thus could raise the price by more than 5000%. The CEO, Martin Shkreli, became "America´s most hated man". Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders made a presidential campaign out of the issue. Members of the European Parliament raised concerns whether TTIP could result in introducing this model in the EU.
But it is not the first time that this happened. Several other pharmaceutical companies bought up the rights for cheap drugs and hiked the prizes many times over. In general the prizes for many medicines are rising.
The "Daraprim scandal" has highlighted some contradictions within capitalism, but before jumping to solutions we have to understand the problem. The sad truth is that Turing´s profiteering scheme was entirely legal. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to be done. We will discuss whether the access to essential medicines can be guaranteed – not by Big Pharma or the government alone, but by the power of the civil society