In 1975, pharmaceutical researchers Robert Gyurik and Vassilios Theodorides developed a medication to treat a host of parasitic worm infestations in sheep. Known generically as albendazole and under a handful of brand names such as Alworm and Albenza, it was approved for human use in Australia in 1982.
When it came to the United States, the pharmaceutical company Amedra bought the rights and produced a generic. But unlike most generic drugs, theirs cost more than the original, upwards of $800 a dose for a drug vital to many in rural or undeveloped communities.
This kind of price gouging, always common in the industry, has hit the headlines a number of times over the past few years, most notably when felon Martin Shkreli bought the rights to manufacture Daraprim (another antiparasitic, this one vital to AIDS patients and pregnant people) and increased its price from $13.50 per pill to $750. The overnight 56-times increase drew a huge amount of public criticism, but no policy changes. There are still no laws protecting the public from this kind of medical hostage-taking. The industry may have to change from within.
Mark Cuban, billionaire investor and one of the hosts of Shark Tank, is having a go at that. This January, he and a circle of investors have launched a pharmaceutical company of their own. Mark Cuban Cost Plus Drug Company, as it’s called, is intended to produce generic drugs to sell to hospitals, with rates that won’t make patients choose between rent and their next dose.
“Everyone should know what it cost to make their medicine,” reads the company’s mission statement. “Everyone should feel the price they paid for their medicine was fair.” On their website, product information includes a detailed breakdown of their operating costs.
And their first drug venture? Albendazole, which they’ll sell for $20 a tablet, just 15 percent above cost.
Photo: Mark Cuban’s new generic drug manufacturing company will start by producing the antiparasitic medication albendazole. Credit: Manju Mandavya / Shutterstock.com