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Did a pharma company really triple the price of a drug capable of battling the coronavirus?

Published Apr 23rd, 2020 3:05PM EDT

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  • A pharmaceutical company this month tripled the price of an HIV drug that could be used to help treat coronavirus symptoms.
  • The company claims that the price increase was decided upon months before the coronavirus pandemic began.
  • Visit BGR’s homepage for more stories.

There’s a story making the rounds suggesting that Jaguar Health, a San Francisco-based pharmaceutical company, recently raised the price of one of its drugs by an exorbitant amount after learning it might be used to help treat coronavirus symptoms. As reported by Axios, Jaguar more than tripled the price of Mytesi, an FDA-approved drug that was initially designed to provided relief for HIV patients suffering from non-infectious diarrhea.

While Mytesi typically costs about $668, Jaguar boosted the price to $2,206 earlier this month. In March, Jaguar filed a FORM 8-K with the SEC and disclosed that it asked the FDA for approval to use Mytesi “for the symptomatic relief of diarrhea and other gastrointestinal symptoms in patients with COVID-19 and for patients with COVID-19 who have diarrhea associated with certain antiviral treatments.”

Incidentally, Jaguar’s request was not approved by the FDA.

While it’s certainly easy to jump to the conclusion that Jaguar Health is an evil company that prioritizes profits above all else, the situation appears to be a bit more nuanced. As relayed by Axios, Jaguar Health has been in a precarious financial position for quite some time. The company even noted in its recent annual report that it may not have enough money to continue operations over the next 12 months:

We are forecasting continued losses and negative cash flows as we continue to fund our operating and marketing activities and research and development programs, and we will not have sufficient cash on hand to fund our operating plan through March 31, 2021 to complete the development of all the current products in our pipeline, or any additional products we may identify.

We will need to seek additional funds sooner than planned through public or private equity or debt financings or other sources such as strategic collaborations.

So, how is this relevant? Jaguar Health tells Axios that the decision to raise the price of Mytesi was made all the way back in December — well before the coronavirus pandemic began — as a means to help boost profits:

Jaguar Health CEO Lisa Conte told Axios the company decided in December to raise the price of Mytesi in April because it was losing too much money. She also blamed health insurers for making the drug difficult for people to get.

The company further notes that if its FDA request was approved, it would have delayed the price increase for Mytesi. What’s more, Jaguar Health delayed the price increase until April 7, which is when the FDA’s response came through.

All told, the timing looks suspicious, but it seems that the scenario is simply a drug company drastically raising the price of a medication to boost its bottom line. And while you can make a case that the behavior is abhorrent, it’s certainly not as reprehensible as tripling the price of a medication simply because it might be used in the midst of a global pandemic.

Yoni Heisler Contributing Writer

Yoni Heisler has been writing about Apple and the tech industry at large with over 15 years of experience. A life long expert Mac user and Apple expert, his writing has appeared in Edible Apple, Network World, MacLife, Macworld UK, and TUAW.

When not analyzing the latest happenings with Apple, Yoni enjoys catching Improv shows in Chicago, playing soccer, and cultivating new TV show addictions.

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