Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios
This month, Jaguar Health more than tripled the price of its lone FDA-approved drug, right after asking the federal government to expand the use of its drug to coronavirus patients.
Why it matters: Jaguar Health drastically raised the price of a drug during the height of the pandemic, but executives argued the move was needed to stave off the company's collapse.
By the numbers: Going into this year, the list price of a 60-pill bottle of Mytesi — an antidiarrheal medication specifically for people with HIV/AIDS who are on antiretroviral drugs — was $668.52.
- On April 9, Jaguar Health raised the price to $2,206.52, according to pricing data from Elsevier's Gold Standard Drug Database.
Between the lines: The price hike coincides with the company's push to get its drug to more patients — specifically those diagnosed with COVID-19.
- On March 21, Jaguar Health asked the FDA to authorize emergency use of Mytesi for COVID-19 patients who were experiencing any diarrhea or "diarrhea associated with certain antiviral treatments" including remdesivir, among others.
- Jaguar Health argued Mytesi, which is made from the sap of trees in the Amazon rainforest, should be used more widely because researchers suggested diarrhea was a common symptom in coronavirus patients.
- On April 7, the FDA denied that request. The agency declined to comment about why it denied the company's request.
- Jaguar Health is still in discussions with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases about evaluating Mytesi's effectiveness against this coronavirus.
The big picture: Jaguar Health disclosed earlier this month that "there is substantial doubt about our ability to continue as a going concern as we do not currently have sufficient cash resources to fund our operations" for another year.
- Mytesi generated less than $6 million of revenue last year. Raising the drug's price threefold and shooting for a bigger patient population, especially coronavirus patients, would substantially increase revenue.
What they're saying: 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 reimbursement barriers are so huge. It's impossible for us to make a business out of it," Conte said.
- If the FDA granted emergency use for Mytesi during the coronavirus pandemic, the company would have held off on the price increase, Conte said. It delayed the price hike scheduled for April 1 until after it heard from the FDA.
- When asked if the company would have increased Mytesi's price after any emergency use period lapsed, she replied: "Likely."
- "[The price increase] is absolutely the right decision for everyone," Conte said.
Go deeper: Jaguar Health isn't the only drug company that has raised prices amid the outbreak. The U.S. drugmaker of chloroquine doubled the price of its product last month, the Financial Times reported.