We should thank Martin Shkreli, the man who bought the only drug to treat toxoplasmosis and promptly raised the price through the roof. Why should we thank him? Due to his outrageous, cavalier attitude toward the issue and his failure to hire a PR firm to do the talking, he put Big Pharma and its ridiculous pricing policies under a huge spotlight.
Everyone in America, likely the world, knows the man’s name. Martin Shkreli is the media-dubbed “Pharma Bro” whose company bought the only drug that treats toxoplasmosis and promptly jacked the price through the stratosphere. Never mind that it’s the only drug that really treats the disease or that there is no generic form available (or even in the works). Shkreli, the man everyone loves to hate, raised the price from $13.50/pill to $750/pill. We should thank Martin Shkreli.
Since anyone who has any type of exposure to media this week already knows the back-story to this one, I’ll be brief in my recap. Let’s get started.
- Turing Pharmaceuticals (Shkreli’s company) buys the rights to Daraprim.
- Shkreli, with a level of arrogance outstripped only by Alexander the Great, raises the price of the drug.
- The world loses its collective mind.
- Shkreli’s “Schwing!” over the jacked up prices goes a little limp and he changes his mind.
There, I think that about catches us up. You might be asking yourself, “Why on earth does this writer think we should thank Martin Shkreli? Is he getting a kickback or something?”
I can assure you that I am not, in fact, getting a kickback from Shkreli. Though if he’s reading this: Bro! I wouldn’t mind toasting you with some of that $20,000 a bottle wine you tweeted out. After all, because of you, I got to write this post! Seriously, I doubt I’ll be invited to join Shkreli anytime soon. Especially since he switched his Twitter account to private and won’t follow me back. Dude! What’s up with that?
I do think we should thank Martin Shkreli for doing what he did with Daraprim. Hear me out before you start typing messages insulting my intelligence or asking me to produce my birth certificate. Let’s take a look at Shkreli, the man, shall we?
He’s confident. He’s got swagger. He drinks $20,000 a bottle wine! And he’s perhaps the best example of the CEO as sociopath I’ve yet to see this year and I covered Fiat’s CEO Sergio Marchionne and his frightfully inhuman responses while being deposed in the burning death of Remi Walden.
I should point out that Shkreli and Marchionne are not alone. Studies show that about 1% of all American CEO’s would likely be diagnosed as sociopaths, if tested. Not the “You got purty hair, lemme put your head in a freezer,” kind. They are the high functioning otherwise sane individuals who have no problem making decisions that could potentially destroy lives all for the sacred bottom line and all while playing with that annoying swinging ball thing on their desks.
A look back at some of Shkreli’ own comments in interviews illustrates my point:
- He said he had to raise the price because a full course of Daraprim “to save your life was only $1,000.”
- Smiling in one interview, he said, “This drug was making $5 million in revenue. And I don’t think you can find a drug company on this planet that can make money on $5 million in revenue.”
- He insulted reporters questioning the price hike, calling one a “moron” and suggested that the details of the matter were too complicated for the average person to understand.
It doesn’t stop there, though. Shkreli was booted from Retrophin, the biotech company he started, and it sued him last month. The suit alleges that he did a lot of underhanded deals involving Retrophin stock and ultimately turned it into a private bank to pay off his personal debts. The company is asking for $65M in damages.
The suit also alleges that Shkreli is fond of writing letters and using social media to threaten those who cross him. In 2013, he was accused of writing a letter to a former employee’s wife stating, “I hope to see you and your four children homeless and will do whatever I can to assure this.” It further alleges that he contacted the former employee’s kids on Facebook accusing their father of betrayal and stealing $3M from him.
These actions are perfectly in line with those a sociopath would take. The sense that he thinks he has absolute power over the people in his life and can destroy their lives on a whim illustrates the elevated self-image held by most sociopaths. In case you’re wondering how I know all this…
I do a lot of bizarre research in my other life as an author. You didn’t think I was going to tell you I am a sociopath, did you? It would be most unwise to blow my cover, hypothetically speaking, of course.
Why is this important? Simple. Martin Shkreli should never have done his own publicity. In all honesty, if he’d hired a good PR firm, we probably wouldn’t be having this conversation. PR people know how to tell you to go to Hell in such a way that’ll you’ll thank them for the trip. Martin Shkreli does not know how to do this, going by the results he got. My guess is that he couldn’t abide by the idea of not being the one in the spotlight, though.
Ultimately this is why we should thank Martin Shkreli. The outrage his price hike and cavalier attitude engendered in the public was nothing short of epic. It also caused many of us to turn our gazes toward other Big Pharma players and wonder just what they’ve been up to lately.
I could be wrong but I firmly believe that the Daraprim 5500% price hike would have gone virtually unnoticed (except by Daraprim users) if the whole thing had been handled with more finesse. After all, despite what some drug companies told reporters this week, Big Pharma really is about profits, not healthcare. And they hire good PR people.
This piece exposed some of Big Pharma’s underhanded methods of maximizing profit while screwing patients. Here’s another one where a court stepped in to swat down the profiteering bastards. Neither of these, nor countless other instances made big news. It took Martin Shkreli to do that. Even presidential hopeful, Hillary Clinton got in on this one.
This is why we should thank Martin Shkreli.
After the world exploded this week, Shkreli changed his mind about the astronomical price hike, saying that he will lower the price to an as-yet-undetermined amount. That determination will be made within the next few weeks.
Regarding this new decision, Shkreli said, “Yes it is absolutely a reaction — there were mistakes made with respect to helping people understand why we took this action, I think that it makes sense to lower the price in response to the anger that was felt by people.” Spot on assessment, in my opinion. Also, a masterful move on his part.
One thing I would like to point out is that most of the stories on the issue I saw this week had one thing in common:
“Evil Man Raises Price on AIDS Pill”
I feel it necessary to say that Daraprim is not an “AIDS” pill. Daraprim is a drug used to treat a nasty disease called toxoplasmosis. This illness is caused by the Toxoplasma gondii parasite, which is one of the most common parasites in the world. If you’re in a room with two other people, chances are one of you is carrying this little critter.
In non-immunosuppressed individuals, the parasite might cause flu-like symptoms, though most of us will never feel a thing if we have it. However, it’s a serious issue for those who are immunosuppressed, such as cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, pregnant women and yes, people with AIDS. It is not solely used for treating AIDS patients. That was an irresponsible move on the part of mainstream media and likely another reason for the furor following Shkreli’s initial price increase.
For the record, I am not defending Martin Shkreli. I’m not a huge fan of what he did, or what Big Pharma does with prices as an industry. However, I’m even less a fan of yellow journalism. Shkreli raised the price on a drug that treats a parasitic infection, not an AIDS drug.
In the end, the world turns. I’ll post this piece and spend the rest of the evening watching the stars from my patio. Babies will be born; people will die; corporations will concoct new ways to screw us and I’ll write about them. But now, thanks to Shkreli, Big Pharma is going to find itself under an even bigger microscope.
The government will be watching the industry. Watchdog groups will be watching the industry. I, and many more like me (maybe even you!) will be watching the industry. And we owe that to Shkreli.
That is why we should thank Martin Shkreli.
Thanks, bro! Now follow me back already, you’re starting to hurt my feelings.