Imprimis targets another Shkreli price hike with compounded rival to $30-per-pill Thiola

Imprimis Pharma ($IMMY) is striking out at notorious price hikes once again. The compounder that rolled out a cheaper alternative to toxoplasmosis treatment Daraprim now plans a cut-rate rival for the suddenly pricey kidney drug Thiola.

Imprimis CEO Mark Baum

Both drugs gained notoriety after "pharma bro" Martin Shkreli bought them and launched their prices into the stratosphere. Turing Pharmaceuticals' Daraprim went up to $750 per pill from $13.50, and Imprimis now sells a compounded combo pill for $1 each.

Approved to treat cystinuria, a condition that causes kidney stones, Thiola is sold by Retrophin ($RTRX), which bought the drug and hiked its price by twentyfold back in 2014, when Shkreli was in charge. Once sold for $1.50 per pill, Thiola suddenly cost $30 each, and patients take as many as 30 pills per day, Imprimis says, which is costly even at Thiola's old $1.50 price tag. Even at a more common dose of 8 to 10 pills, at $30 per pill, that's $87,600 on the low end.

San Diego-based Imprimis plans to combine Thiola's active ingredient, tiopronin, with potassium citrate, a med often prescribed as an add-on to patients with cystinuria, the company says. It's an approach similar to the Daraprim alternative, which puts that drug's active ingredient, pyrimethamine, together with leucovorin, which is often prescribed alongside it to minimize side effects.

Because it's a compounding pharmacy, rather than a drug manufacturer with FDA-approved manufacturing lines and processes for each product, Imprimis must have a patient-specific script in hand to make its meds. The company's alternative to Daraprim quickly won backing from the pharmacy benefits manager Express Scripts ($ESRX), which brought the compounder into its pharmacy network to make access easier.

The new Thiola competitor is scheduled for rollout in April. Though Imprimis hasn't quoted a per-capsule price, it says that the cost of treatment would be more than 70% lower for some patients. Imprimis also plans to customize the dosage of its version, hoping to reduce the number of capsules required per day.

Imprimis CEO Mark Baum said the headlines about its Daraprim rival prompted "thousands" of patients to contact the company looking for less expensive alternatives to their own meds. Many cystinuria patients were among them, he said, which is why Imprimis decided to target Thiola next.

The company plans to follow up with other cheaper competitors to drugs subject to big price increases. There are plenty of choices, Baum said in a statement; patients who contacted the company "[requested] help with over 100 FDA-approved drugs that also experienced massive and nearly overnight price hikes."

In addition to covering the Imprimis version, Express Scripts has brought the compounder into its pharmacy network, the pharmacy benefits manager said in a statement. Physicians can send patient-specific scripts to Imprimis, which will start processing the prescriptions as early as this week. Chief Medical Officer Steve Miller said Express Scripts will "share our solution with other payers to make sure all appropriate patients around the country have access to the treatment they need at the lowest possible price."

- read the Imprimis statement

Read more on