KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The head of a small Kansas City pharmaceutical company is defending himself after a financial publication reported that he said he had a "moral requirement" to raise the price of a 65-year-old antibiotic by 400 percent.
Nostrum Laboratories founder Nirmal Mulye said his comments to the London-based Financial Times were taken out of context, The Kansas City Star reports. The Financial Times has said it sticks by its story, which led to a sharp rebuke from Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb and others. Mulye said he has received threats.
At issue is Nostrum's plan to hike the price of nitrofurantoin, an antibiotic used to treat bladder infections. In the Financial Times' story, Mulye defends the price increase of $474.75 to $2,392.
"I think it is a moral requirement to make money when you can . . . to sell the product for the highest price," he said, according to the story.
Reached by phone Thursday at his New Jersey home, Mulye said he was talking about his obligation to his employees.
"My exact words to the guy was, 'Listen I don't have a moral obligation to breathe and eat, but if I don't do those things I'll die," Mulye said. "It's common sense that if a business doesn't make profit or at least break even it's not going to be able to stay in business, right? . American jobs will be lost."
The day the story went online, Gottlieb said in a tweet: "There's no moral imperative to price gouge and take advantage of patients."
Mulye said Nostrum's generic version of nitrofurantoin has been off the market since January, when new FDA regulations took effect that required it to be reformulated. Other generic versions also had to be taken off the market to be reformulated. In March, Casper hiked the price for its brand-name drug, Furadantin, by 136 percent to $2,800 a bottle. Nostrum then increased the price of its generic.
"The brand hiked the price," Mulye said. "We are just trying to bring a cheaper alternative to the brand. So I'm the savior, not the villain and everyone is making me the villain."
He added that he was worried at this point about keeping his company afloat, noting that he's lost money in eight of 11 years.
The office of U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, said Thursday that she and U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, sent a letter to Mulye saying that pricing decisions in the pharmaceutical industry "can have a devastating impact on patients and their families that can literally amount to a matter of life or death."