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December 15, 2015

martin shkreli is pathetic, but mostly scary

It is of course great rollicking fun to sit back and just make all kinds of fun of Martin Shkreli on social media. Sure, he rocketed to fame for being the poster boy for Big Pharma's amoral greed, but o ho! He's the dude that bought that Wu Tang album! He has comically inflated self-regard when it comes to the ladies! Ha ha! He's icky! Whee!

But in between the headlines and the transparent stabs at maintaining his dubious celebrity is this bit of unethical chicanery. The story is seemingly another of Shkreli's company, Turing Pharmaceuticals, acquiring another drug and jacking up the price (the polite term for this is "profiteering"). But the real scam is not about the retail price at all:

"The only reason for [Shkreli] to do this is to get the voucher and turn around and sell it," said Dr. Caryn Bern, a Chagas disease specialist at the University of California, San Francisco.

Under a program created by Congress in 2007, companies that get drugs approved for qualifying tropical diseases receive a voucher that entitles the holder to an expedited review by the F.D.A. of another drug, shaving four months off the process. A similar program was created for rare pediatric diseases. For a company with a drug for diabetes or arthritis with expected sales of billions of dollars a year, an extra four months on the market before patents expire could be valuable. So companies that earn the vouchers typically sell them to other drug companies for prices that have reached $350 million.

So not content to merely rip off insurers by inflating the price of a rarely-used but important (and currently free) drug, Turing/Shkreli wants to exploit a program designed to encourage the development of drugs for which there are not "markets" and walk away with a couple hundred million dollars for his trouble. Yeah yeah yeah, all of this is "increasing shareholder value" and technically not illegal. But we're human beings and not corporations and as such we are entitled if not obligated to make value judgments. "Profiteering" does not arbitrarily have negative connotations. Shkreli is an amoral prick, and that he's enjoying his notoriety makes him a sociopath to boot.

And seriously, if you want to ignore all the actually repugnant things Shkreli is doing (which things are an indictment not only of Big Pharma and blithe capitalism but also of assholes everywhere) and focus on the foibles of Shkreli the person, please do not forget that deep down he is a garden variety piece of shit.

[In between starting this and finishing this, the little piece of shit actually got arrested, for a ponzi scheme so dumb that it defies belief. It could not have happened to a nicer guy.]

Posted by mrbrent at 10:43 AM