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That was too expensive for him so he went to rival chemist CVS, stood in line for half an hour, and got a quote for $410 for the same drug. At a third pharmacy the staff failed to give him even a price check.

“It seemed like a lot of overhead to figure out a price comparison,” said Mr. Hirsch, a former engineer at Yahoo and Facebook.

He partnered with Scott Marlette, with whom he worked at Facebook to build the social network’s photo sharing features, and Trevor Bezdek, a technology entrepreneur, to build a website where people could compare drug prices online and in their locality with a few keyboard strokes and a mouse click.

They launched GoodRx from their Santa Monica, Calif., headquarters a few weeks ago. Entering the name of a drug and a zip code into the site returns a list of prices for that medication at nearby and online pharmacies.

As health care costs in the U.S. soar, and employers and insurance companies push more of the cost burden on to patients. In many cases, a 20-milligram dose of a drug is the same price as the 100-mg dose, so GoodRx includes links to advice on how to split pills and save money.

GoodRx aims to bring transparency to drug prices, as other sites have made online price comparison the norm for TVs and cars.

“Once you start to inform people and start to empower people to make decisions, you both start to change the market that exists and perhaps affect some costs,” Mr. Marlette says.

GoodRx is tackling the problem of reducing drug prices that lawmakers have debated for years. But they say it is a common trait among Facebook alumni to take on huge problems. Connecting friends and guiding people to affordable medicine are not that different in computer code, they say.

“Both Facebook and GoodRx are in the business of taking tons of data and trying to dumb it down so the average American can consume it quickly,” Mr. Hirsch says.

GoodRx is considering different business models, from pharmacy-sponsored coupons to complex deals with insurance agencies that will lead patients to buy from less-expensive sources.

The introduction of health care reforms in the U.S. is expected to generate higher sales of generic drugs, and that is where GoodRx has found the most price discrepancies, as local pharmacies have more flexibility to mark up the price due to low manufacturing costs.

“It seems like people are way overpaying,” Mr. Hirsch says. “We just thought the time was right for something like GoodRx.”

Copyright The Financial Times Ltd. All rights reserved.

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