Given that Big Pharma executives are mostly visible monsters with fangs and horns, they usually avoid the spotlight. But after raising the cost of a life-saving pill by 5,000 percent, Turing CEO Martin Shkreli is loudly telling the world to fuck off.
Only a bad guy from Captain Planet could come up with a more brazenly amoral business scheme: Turing Pharmaceuticals purchased the rights to Daraprim, a 62-year-old drug used to treat toxoplasmosis, a parasitic affliction that affects tens of millions in the U.S. alone. Daraprim is particularly important for AIDS and cancer patients, whose weakened immune systems are ravaged by toxoplasmosis. Shkreli has now directly, intentionally switched the drug from affordable to insanely out of reach, Healio reports:
Since its acquisition, the price of pyrimethamine has increased from $13.50 per tablet to $750 per tablet, according to IDSA and HIVMA. In an open letter to Turing, the organizations urged the pharmaceutical company to revise its pricing strategy for the generic medication.
“Under the current pricing structure, it is estimated that the annual cost of treatment for toxoplasmosis, for the pyrimethamine component alone, will be $336,000 for patients who weigh less than 60 kg and $634,500 for patients who weigh more than 60 kg,” they wrote. “This cost is unjustifiable for the medically vulnerable patient population in need of this medication and unsustainable for the health care system.”
Shkreli isn’t just a regular, run-of-the-mill pharmaceutical industry monster. He’s a monster who used to work (of course) in finance, a former hedge funder accused of having tried to manipulate FDA regulations on drug companies whose stocks he was shorting. He was forced out of the last drug company he started, which is now suing him for $65 million. He’s also a probable charlatan who has claimed to have invented his own pharmaceuticals, despite his lack of any medical or scientific education.
(Shkreli is able to do price-gouge a generic drug by exploiting a few FDA loopholes that give companies exclusive licensing rights to certain older drugs, and allow them to deny other companies the access to those drugs needed to prove that a generic alternative is chemically identical.)
According to USA Today, Turing claims the proceeds of the now-exorbitantly priced toxoplasmosis drug will be used to research treatments and raise awareness for toxoplasmosis:
Rothenberg defended Daraprim’s price, saying that the company will use the money it makes from sales to further research treatments for toxoplasmosis. They also plan to invest in marketing and education tools to make people more aware of the disease.
This could also be phrased as “attempting to grow the size of the potential market for this suddenly much more profitable drug.”
Rather than hide and count his blood money, Shkreli is conducting a social media blitz. He spent much of last night bickering with John Carroll, a science writer who runs a pharma news website and has been critical of Shkreli for pulling a nearly identical price-gouging stunt at his last company.
And it’s not just journalists. Shkreli’s also sparring with pretty much anyone who criticizes his obscene business practices:
Here he is accusing a guy with 25 followers of having no life:
The man is relentless. He cannot be daunted:
He’s also taken to Reddit to directly engage with people who hate his guts (a suicide mission if there ever was one):
“This was a strangely inexpensive drug.”
This is not the first time that Shkreli’s combined love of parasitical rent-seeking and social media engagement have landed him in hot water. At his last company, Retrophin, shareholders were furious when Shrkeli appeared to tweet hints about company acquisitions before they were officially announced.
And, well, there was also this:
More recently, three alias Twitter accounts were found to be under the control of unidentified Retrophin employees, according to people familiar with the situation. The link was found after the IP address of one of the alias Twitter accounts matched the IP address of Retrophin’s headquarters.
The most prolific of these accounts, @Thug_BioAnalyst, tweeted in “ghetto slang” expressing support for Retrophin and calling out other drug stocks, including TherapeuticsMD (TXMD), as shorts.
Ironically, Shkreli’s insistence on trolling anyone who contacts him will probably do little but “make people more aware” of how grotesque the whole pharmaceutical industry is, and how insane our drug pricing system is compared to the drug pricing in every other wealthy nation. The attention Shkreli has attracted has already prompted Hillary Clinton to tweet her objection to the news, immediately causing a dip in the NASDAQ biotech index:
There appears to be real fear on the part of Big Pharma that the utter shamelessness of this incredibly hatable greedhead could ruin the racket for the respectable and mostly anonymous greedheads in the rest of the industry.
In case you need any more help making a decision about Martin Shkreli and Turing Pharmaceuticals, here is a photo of Martin Shkreli posted by Martin Shkreli: