Drug firm maligned for 5,000 percent price hike turns to K Street for help

Drug firm maligned for 5,000 percent price hike turns to K Street for help
© ABC News

The pharmaceutical company that came under fire for ratcheting up the price of a medication by more than 5,000 percent is bringing on some Washington firepower.

Turing Pharmaceuticals hired lobbyists at Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney to work on “strategy development and implementation of the company’s federal government relations initiatives,” disclosure forms say.

The documents are dated Sept. 29, roughly a week after the company’s CEO set off a firestorm of criticism for raising the cost on a drug used to treat a deadly parasitic infection from $13.50 per pill to $750 per pill. 

Turing Pharmaceuticals has “come under questioning for its price raising and there are requests for information from the Congress, so the firm feels it would be proper and a good idea to have very experienced and wise counsel and Buchanan [Ingersoll & Rooney] is both,” Alan Ripp, a spokesman for the company, told The Hill. “It's a start-up company, so the help is very welcome.”

Martin Shkreli — the company’s 32-year-old chief executive and a former hedge fund manager — defended the move for two days, but the company ultimately backed down on Sept. 22. 

"There were mistakes made with respect to helping people understand why we took this action,” Shkreli told NBC News. “I think that it makes sense to lower the price in response to the anger that was felt by people.”

It’s unclear what the new price of the medication will be.

In August Turing bought Daraprim, the 62-year-old drug that's used to treat toxoplasmosis, and jacked up the price shortly thereafter. The infection is life threatening to those with weakened immune systems, including pregnant women, certain cancer patients or patients with AIDS.

Shkreli, who purchased Daraprim for $55 million, said the cost of the drug was needed in order to gain a profit. According to Fortune magazine, he has also said the boost was needed to fund research and development on newer medications.

But the move sparked a national debate over pharmaceutical costs, and the firm was widely criticized.

Shkreli found himself the subject of harsh mockery on social media, while lawmakers and even presidential candidate Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonCarter Page files defamation lawsuit against DNC Dems fear party is headed to gutter from Avenatti’s sledgehammer approach Election Countdown: Cruz, O'Rourke fight at pivotal point | Ryan hitting the trail for vulnerable Republicans | Poll shows Biden leading Dem 2020 field | Arizona Senate debate tonight MORE also lambasted him for the cost increase.

There may also be a congressional investigation underway, per Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.), the top Democrat of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersTrump attacks ‘Crazy Bernie’ Sanders over Medicare plans Overnight Defense: Trump says 'rogue killers' could be behind missing journalist | Sends Pompeo to meet Saudi king | Saudis may claim Khashoggi killed by accident | Ex-VA chief talks White House 'chaos' | Most F-35s cleared for flight Overnight Energy: Trump administration doubles down on climate skepticism | Suspended EPA health official hits back | Military bases could host coal, gas exports MORE (I-Vt.), a Democratic presidential candidate and the ranking member of the Senate Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging.

The two wrote a letter to Shkreli asking for information about the drug’s pricing and distribution, saying that the increase “will have a direct impact on patients’ ability to purchase their needed medications.”

This is not the first instance of outrage over a spike in the cost of an individual drug — Congress last year focused its attention on a newer treatment for Hepatitis C that cost upward of $1,000 per pill.

And while prices for established medications can rise because of a shortage in supply, there have been some cases in which companies buy older drugs and market them with a much larger price tag.

In August, Sanders and Cummings set their sights on Valeant Pharmaceuticals, which purchased a pair of heart medications from another company called Marathon Pharmaceuticals and promptly raised prices on the drugs by 525 percent and 212 percent. Marathon Pharmaceuticals had itself bought the drugs in 2013 and quickly quintupled their prices.