Open Journals

Martin Shkreli, Intentions, and Justifications

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Martin Shkreli, CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, is in the news today after he raised the price of Daraprim. It’s used to treat toxoplasmosis, often in cancer and AIDS patients whose immune systems are extremely vulnerable.

Most people seem to be outraged, but there are, of course, people defending the price increase. None of the justifications are unique thoughts, they’re parroting what Shkreli said in this interview. The following seems to be his key justification for this price increase:

The companies before us were actually just giving it away almost. You know, the price that they were pricing it at was $13.50 and you only needed less than 100 pills. So, uh, you know, at the end of the day the price for a course of treatment, to save your life, was only $1,000. And we know these days, modern pharmaceuticals, cancer drugs can cost $100,000 or more. Rare disease drugs can cost half a million dollars. Daraprim is still underpriced relative to its peers.”

A clearer version of this argument:

“The companies were just giving this life-saving drug away. We can’t have that, we need to match its price tag to the already-ridiculously priced life-saving drugs.”

In the interview, he says, “If you can’t afford the drug, we’ll give it away, totally for free.”

Given that, what’s the point of the absurd price increase? Alternatively: “If you can’t afford it, it’s totally free, but we’re going to raise the price by 5,000% anyway.”

Martin Shkreli’s first pharmaceutical startup was Retrophin. Retrophin’s board “ousted him amid accusations of stock impropriety and concerns about his occasionally brash Twitter persona.” His intentions certainly seem noble:

Since founding Turing last year, Shkreli has taken a page from what made Retrophin a high-profile–and controversial–player among small biotech companies. Retrophin’s stated goal was ferreting out value in biopharma by acquiring assets with potential in rare and neglected diseases, a process that can mean acquiring an underused drug and jacking up its cost to take advantage of rare disease pricing. (x)

He’s spent the day retweeting people saying he’s got a “smart, impressive business model,” a “smart strategy,” Shkreli is “right on so many levels,” and someone suggested watching the interview before “passing judgment.” I did watch the video, and here is my judgment: this is a despicable move and the justifications are equally terrible. When called out for making a profit off of AIDS patients, he referred to well-known pharmaceutical companies, as if pointing out that others do the very same somehow excuses his actions. “Hey, this is already happening — I’m just joining in!”

Martin Shkreli’s “business model” is just that — a business model. His intentions are to reap a profit no matter the cost. There is very little interest in the improvement of public health or wellness.

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