Express Scripts backs Imprimis' $1-per-pill rival to Turing's pricey Daraprim

Turing Pharmaceuticals may be offering discounts on its now-pricey toxoplasmosis drug Daraprim--50% discounts, for hospitals--but Express Scripts ($ESRX) is backing another, far cheaper alternative. It's the compounded duo drug recently unveiled by Imprimis ($IMMY) at $1 per pill.

It's a direct assault on the sort of price increase that Turing used with Daraprim: Buy a drug and hike its price by an enormous margin, which, in this particular case, amounted to more than 5,000%, from $13.50 per pill to $750. Even at a 50% discount, that's still $375 each for a 62-year-old, long-off-patent drug.

Imprimis' pill marries the active ingredient in Daraprim, pyrimethamine, with leucovorin, a form of folic acid. Because it's a compounded drug, physicians must write a specific prescription, which is a barrier to uptake. But with Express Scripts' backing--and the outcry over Daraprim's enormous price increase--the compounded version could gain traction.

Imprimis CEO Mark Baum

Imprimis CEO Mark Baum said teaming up with Express Scripts allows them "to take positive action to counterbalance companies like Turing and others in order to address the growing drug pricing crisis in America." 

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."

Though Turing's price hike heated up the debate over the rising cost of drugs, that company is far from the only one to buy in a product and jack up its price. Valeant Pharmaceuticals ($VRX) is another example that's drawn plenty of attention--most recently with skin drugs, in a JAMA Dermatology article--but Mallinckrodt ($MNK) is also under scrutiny for its H.P. Acthar Gel pricing, which it inherited from Questcor Pharmaceuticals in that acquisition.

Imprimis has other pricey products in its sights. When the company announced its Daraprim rival, it also set up Imprimis Cares, which will not only help patients gain access to that med. It'll also focus on rolling out alternatives in other minimonopoly markets.

Express Scripts is pitching in on that effort, too, Baum said in the statement. "We look forward to … continuing our partnership with Express Scripts to identify and provide additional market based solutions to expensive single source, off patent drugs."

- read the Express Scripts statement