Revenge of the Hoodie: Martin Shkreli Fires Back at the Drug Industry
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Martin Shkreli is tired of being pharma’s favorite scapegoat.
Shkreli, the former drug company CEO who rocketed to notoriety when he hiked the price of an old drug by 5,000 percent, routinely gets blamed by other pharma CEOs for tarnishing the reputation of the entire industry. On Monday, the trade group PhRMA launched a new multi-million dollar ad blitz specifically aimed at distancing itself from Shkreli.
The public discourse on drugs “has been focused on some guy in a hoodie,” PhRMA CEO Stephen Ubl told CNBC, in a reference to Shkreli’s trademark attire. The new campaign, he said, will show the world that the drug industry is about hard work and scientific discovery, not price gouging. Or, as he put it: “Less hoodie, more lab coats.”
That did not sit well with Shkreli.
He’s been removed from his CEO post at Turing Pharmaceuticals and he’s under federal indictment on security fraud charges but just hours after the ad campaign was unveiled, Shkreli went public with PharmaSkeletons.com, a bare-bones website that returns fire. Big time.
“Look in the mirror,” Shkreli writes on the site. “Pharma is a wonderful industry that does great things, but trying to throw me under the bus is foolish.”
His message: His own price gouging is nothing compared to the misdeeds of other drug makers.
Shkreli mentions 26 specific drug companies that are members of PhRMA — and has harsh words for 25 of them. (Not all of his claims are accurate and none come with context.) PhRMA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“I’m pretty pissed off,” Shkreli says in a YouTube video that expounds on the website’s themes. “When you represent companies like Bayer and Amgen and Allergan, and you come at me, saying I’m the bad guy? Let’s get going.”
He calls out, for instance, Biogen, the Massachusetts drug maker known best for its drugs for multiple sclerosis. Mincing no words, he calls it “the worst f—- company on the planet.” He cites the example of the multiple sclerosis drug Tecfidera, which Biogen bought from a European company and increased the price on. And he mentions Biogen’s newest drug, Spinraza, which treats a rare disease called spinal muscular atrophy — and which will carry a list price of $750,000 for the first year of treatment.
“So how exactly Biogen can have the gall to look at my price increase as problematic? I don’t understand,” Shkreli said.
Biogen did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
Shkreli also takes on Orexigen, a flailing San Diego biotech that’s focused on weight loss drugs. “This company is barely solvent. Come on, what are you lobbying for?” Shkreli writes. “I suggest they spend less money on dues and try to get profitable.” (This particular invective comes with a bit of a backstory: It was a bad bet on Orexigen that brought Shkreli’s own hedge fund to insolvency, according to the Securities and Exchange Commission.)
Orexigen did not immediately return a call for comment.
Shkreli also uses his website to paint himself as an innovator who invested in research and sought to develop treatments for several rare diseases — in other words, as one of those guys in lab coats that the industry is spending tens of millions to lionize with its new ad campaign.
He gleefully contrasts his own record with that of the PhRMA CEO.
“Just a reminder. You: A Washington Lobbyist piece of s—,” Shkreli writes. “Me: A guy who has done R&D and started two drug companies. When you learn what a nitrogen atom is, you can talk about me.”