A misunderstood guy

The Feds have been looking at Martin Shkreli, the “that lifesaving pill you need is now $750 apiece” guy, for months.

Since at least in January, Shkreli has been under criminal investigation by the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, court records show. And Shkreli is not alone—some of his business associates have also received grand jury subpoenas in the case.

The criminal investigation involves Retrophin, a public company where Shkreli served as an officer, director, and 10-percent owner of the outstanding stock before being ousted amid multiple allegations of misconduct. Retrophin focuses on the development, acquisition and commercialization of therapies for the treatment of catastrophic or rare diseases, and was founded by in 2011 by Shkreli.

The inquiry, according to court records and people with knowledge of the inquiry, involves such a vast number of suspected crimes it is difficult to know where to start. A quick summary of the government’s theory: If there was money, Shkreli took it. If there were facts to be revealed, Shkreli hid them. If there were securities laws, Shkreli broke them.

But hey, it was all in order to develop better drugs with fewer side effects. He said so himself.

And that’s why Shkreli’s decision to dramatically raise the price of a decades-old life-saving drug—and then appearing on television, smiling broadly as he justified actions that put lives at risk—was such a bad move. Overnight, he transformed himself from a relatively obscure corporate executive to a boldfaced, widely vilified name, known by presidential contenders and lawmakers alike. It is a truism that prosecutors pursue public figures with the greatest vigor, not only because the publicity set off by their indictment serves as a broader deterrent against wrongdoing, but also because such cases can boost a prosecutor’s career.Public disgust of the type raining down on Shkreli now make the cases even more attractive to bring.

Which is tragic when he was just hoping to develop better drugs with fewer side effects!

Shkreli’s price-gouging involves Daraprim, a 62-year-old generic drug used to treat malaria and toxoplasmosis, a parasitic disease often found in HIV-positive individuals and others with weak immune systems. The drug is on the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines, which are the most important medications needed in a basic health system. Shkreli’s company, Turing Pharmaceuticals, acquired Daraprim in August, and boosted the price shortly afterward from $13.50 a pill to $750. The Infectious Diseases Society of America, composed of the top medical doctors who work with conditions like toxoplasmosis, sent a letter on September 8 to top officials at Turing, stating that the cost was “unjustifiable” and was putting patients at risk. Moreover, the doctors said that, since Turing’s acquisition of the drug, hospitals around the country were reporting they could no longer obtain it because of Turing’s significant distribution problems.

But all that was just a necessary step on the way to to developing better drugs with fewer side effects. Wasn’t it?

Another Newsweek story reveals a…distasteful mindset.

On Bloomberg on Monday, Shkreli praised the price hike as, basically, absolutely wonderful.

“We’re the first company that really focused on this product. And I think that’s a great thing, because ultimately companies before us were actually just giving it away, almost,” Shkreli continued. “The price that they were pricing it at, $13.50, you only needed less than 100 pills, so at the end of the day the price per course of treatment—to save your life!—was only $1,000.”

He’s saying it’s a bad thing that a drug needed to save your life costs “only” a thousand dollars for a full course. Clearly he thinks Jonas Salk was a damn fool not to become a billionaire.

The Guardian reports that Shkreli thinks he knows more about toxoplasmosis than anyone in the world.

Shkreli declined to say how much he would cut the cost of Daraprim, the standard treatment for the dangerous blood infection toxoplasmosis. Daraprim is a daily drug many patients have to take for a year or more.

“We have to do a lot of calculation. When we make the new price, we are going to make it so that Turing is a break-even or only slightly profitable company,” he said.

“There are very few people who care about toxoplasmosis more than me,” he said. “I think I know more about toxoplasmosis than anyone in the world.”

Sounds plausible.

But medical experts cast doubt on the assertions of the former hedge fund manager-turned-pharmaceutical entrepreneur.

“I’m highly skeptical. I don’t trust that we are going to see a return to a price that’s economically feasible or truly justified,” Tim Horn, HIV project director at the Treatment Action Group, a global research and policy advocacy group in the fields of HIV, tuberculosis and hepatitis C, told the Guardian. Another specialist called Turing’s actions “repulsive”.

When all he wants is to make a better drug with fewer side effects.

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