Valeant Pharmaceuticals hiked the price of a widely used treatment for life-threatening cases of lead poisoning by more than 2,700 per cent in a single year, according to a U.S. medical news source.

Valeant acquired the drug known as Calcium EDTA in 2012 as part of a US$2.6-billion deal to buy Arizona-based Medicis.

The Quebec-based drug maker is said to have boosted the list price from $950 to $7,116 following the acquisition, and then raised the price to $26,927 through a series of increases over course of 2014, according to data from Truven Health Analytics.

The drug is kept on hand in hospitals and poison control centres for removing heavy metals, such as lead or mercury, from the blood. Cases of heavy metal poisoning are rare, but a supply of the treatment is generally in stock.

About 50 serious cases of lead poisioning were reported in the U.S. last year, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers.

“This is a drug that has long been a standard of care, and until recently it was widely accessible at an affordable price,” Dr. Michael Kosnett, an associate clinical professor in the division of clinical pharmacology and toxicology at the University of Colorado’s School of Medicine, and a consultant to the California Poison Control System, in an interview with STAT.

“There’s no justification for the astronomical price increases by Valeant, which limit availability of the drug to children with life-threatening lead poisoning.”

A Valeant spokesman told STAT the current pricing is justified, saying “The list price increases over the past several years have enabled us to provide to the market consistent availability of a product with high carrying costs and very limited purchase volume of 200 to 300 units per year” in a statement.

However, poison control specialists worry that the price hike will diminish access to the drug because of the rarity of lead poisoning relative to the drugs inflated price.

“Lead poisoning is often an inner city problem and many hospitals don’t have a lot of resources in those areas,” said Dr. Lewis Nelson, chair of the department of emergency medicine at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School told STAT. “Hospital pharmacy budgets are not unlimited, and this is the kind of drug nobody wants to keep around because there isn’t a lot of use. So this can create a dilemma.”

Valeant has faced a torrent of criticism from investors and regulators on pricing tactics and unorthodox business practices over the past year.

The company’s Toronto-listed shares have plunged about 90 per cent from a record high in August 2015.