Martin Shkreli, the 32-year-old founder and CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals has become the internet’s villain-of-the-day by purchasing the rights to a 62-year-old drug called Daraprim — one that fights opportunistic infections in people with weak immune systems (like cancer and AIDS patients) — and raising its price from $13.50 a pill to $750 a pill.
In an interview with Bloomberg News (above), Shkreli initially claimed that the drug’s previous producers were more or less content with the drugs “toxic” side-effects and that his company will put the profits of Daraprim’s increased price towards research and development to create a better medicine with fewer “toxic” side effects. Deraprim’s current side effects can include nausea, abdominal cramps, dry mouth, diarrhea, headache and loss of full bodily control of movements, but The New York Times reports that the drug’s side effects have not left the medical community clamoring for a better alternative.
Meanwhile Shkreli claims that the current version of Deraprim only cures 80 percent of all cases and that his company is also developing three or four Daraprim-alternatives which may be necessary to cure future mutated forms of taxoplasmosis. He also claims that increased costs will help cover the drug’s distribution, FDA, manufacturing and employment costs, and that his company “will never deny someone treatment for their ability to pay.”
Here’s what he told Bloomberg News:
“We’ve put the right protocols in place to make sure in fact that patients get the drug faster and with almost no cost. Previously there were co-pays for this drug. We have co-pay assistanceship program that will limit that. Previously there was a limited free-drug program; we’ve expanded that. Half our our drug we give away for one dollar so I think that shows our commitment to patients. And if you can’t afford the drug, we’ll give it away totally for free, especially if the patient is in need or doesn’t have an income…
“In fact, even if we’re having a disagreement with the insurer, we’ll send them drug for free in the interim until we the fix insurer.”
Despite Shkreli’s claims, the Infectious Diseases Society of America and the HIV Medicine Association both report in an open letter that after Turing Pharmaceuticals bought Daraprim, “hospitals, including those with 340B pharmacies [that use the U.S. government’s Drug Discount Program], also reported being unable to obtain the medication.” In contrast, the medical director of the University of Chicago toxoplasmosis center said “that Turing had been good about delivering drugs quickly to patients, sometimes without charge.”
In response to Shkreli’s infamous Daraprim dealings, Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders co-wrote a letter with the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform asking Turing Pharmaceuticals for documents explaining all the costs associated with Daraprim.
Price gouging like this in the specialty drug market is outrageous. Tomorrow I’ll lay out a plan to take it on. -H https://t.co/9Z0Aw7aI6h
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) September 21, 2015
Similarly, Democratic presidential candidate Hilary Clinton called Shkreli’s move “price gouging” and proposed “a $250 monthly cap on prescription drugs for patients with chronic or serious medical conditions.”
Shkreli’s previous company Retrophin made a practice of buying older drugs and raising their prices as well. In 2014, his company bought the rights to Thiola — a kidney stone medication — and raised the cost from $1 per pill to $30 per pill.
Before Retrophin, Shrkeli made a name for himself short-selling drug stocks by lending out shares at a high cost, joining other in publicly bad-mouthing the companies online until their stock price plummeted and then buying back the shares at a drastically reduced price. In this instance, it seems he is using a reverse method, buying up cheap drugs and then drastically increasing their price for a profit.
The Daily Beast also reports that:
“A sworn affidavit submitted by ex-Retrophin employee Timothy Pierotti to the Supreme Court of the State of New York and obtained by The Daily Beast alleges that Martin Shkreli engaged in a pattern of harassment against him and his family for almost a year… Pierotti’s affidavit includes screenshots of alleged messages that Shkreli sent to him, his wife, and his son.”