February 8, 2016

DUGGAL | Do More Than Hate Martin Shkreli

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Martin Shkreli is one interesting dude. I didn’t think I would come across anyone that could garner almost as much hatred as everyone’s favorite blonde-haired, big-mouthed, billionaire presidential candidate, but Shkreli might just prove me entirely wrong.

This past Thursday morning, Shkreli arrived on Capitol Hill for an engagement that was not memorable enough for me to justify the time I spent curled up in bed in a Nutella fueled rage watching it Friday night. What I can justify, however, is the time I spent afterwards delving into Shkreli’s (very strange) life, in and out of the spotlight.

He started off as your regular “I want to be on Wall Street” college student. There really wasn’t anything special about Shkreli, minus the fact that while everyone else usually wants to be on Wall Street to make money, Shkreli dropped out of college as soon as he had enough credits to get hired at a hedge fund and then proceeded to draw the attention of the SEC by predicting the rise and fall of stocks too accurately. Honestly, if I knew I could read financials well enough to know exactly when a major biotech company’s share price would fall,  I would probably drop out of school too.

What I like to think I wouldn’t do, however, is pretty much anything Shkreli proceeded to do after starting his second hedge fund, MSMB Capital Management — one of the two firms he’s now undergoing investigation for securities fraud. Not that this is where Shkreli’s notoriety stems from. Instead, his time in the spotlight came long before his arrest and subsequent indictment for accusations surrounding the notion that he ran a ponzi-like scheme while at MSMB Capital Management and Retrophin.  You (along with most normal people that haven’t spent hours researching his life on Wikipedia) have probably heard of Shkreli for his actions as a class A pharma bro.

Turing Pharmaceuticals, yet another Shkreli-headed venture, bought a drug called Daraprim, used to treat toxoplasmosis, a disease that can be fatal to H.I.V. patients. Not long after buying the drug, Turing raised its price from less than $20 per tablet to $750 per tablet. In the judgement of many, experts and otherwise, this price was way too damn high. Experts called the increase “unjustifiable” while others took to online forums to express their opinions in less controlled language. Shkreli, at first, said he would lower the price, doing little to pacify his critics (One headline: “Martin Shkreli Lowers Drug Price, Is Still an Asshole.”) And not too long after, he said he wouldn’t — increasing outrage and thus leading many to label him a “pharma bro,” a characterization of the greedy American medical industry.

I’m not sure I would use the word “bro” to describe Martin Shkreli, especially not during interviews and his recent House committee hearing. “Awkward,” “uncomfortable” and “kind of a douche” are terms I would use to more accurately describe Shkreli. He speaks with little to no regard for anyone who can’t understand why higher prices and therefore higher profits would benefit the industry and patients alike. For those of you that can’t figure out why jacking up the price of a drug almost 40 times the original price works in favor of patients, it’s because the profits can be used to fund additional research and development (not that anyone will be held accountable for apparent results).

As for Shkreli’s time in front of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform last week? Like I mentioned in passing earlier, it was in relation to his indictment on several counts of fraud relating to the hedge funds he co-founded. Even the hearing itself took a turn for the ridiculous as Shkreli chose to invoke his right to the fifth amendment in response to most questions he was asked, including those related to the one-of-a-kind, two million dollar Wu Tang Clan album he bought and the subsequent feud that occurred with the Clan’s greatest rapper, Ghostface Killah.

My point in bringing up Martin Shkreli and his really weird life today was not to simply detail his saga as it as played out over time, especially in the past week. Instead, Shkreli is as interesting as he is to me for the argument that he invokes. “One of the strangest things about the anti-Shkreli argument is that it asks us to be shocked that a medical executive is motivated by profit. And one of the strangest things about Shkreli himself is that he doesn’t seem to be motivated by profit — at least, not entirely,” outlines a recent article in The New Yorker. A truly profit hungry medical executive would have kept a lower profile than Shkreli did — rather than jacking up the price hundreds of dollars in a matter of days, he or she would’ve gradually increased the price over longer periods of time, maintaining anonymity so as to avoid flashy headlines.

Shkreli is interesting to me for showing us what is legal so we may consider what we need to change moving forward. Keep in mind, Shkreli is not facing a federal indictment for what people are most enraged about. He is not facing indictment for what Rep. Elijah  Cummings (D-M.D.) decided to spend his allotted time during the questioning reprimanding him for. He is in the public eye for a reaction other than rage, and it would do well for the American people to keep that in mind as they look to elect representatives in the future.