Martin Shkreli Pleads for 3-Month Prison Furlough to Help COVID-19 R&D Efforts

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Disgraced pharma executive Martin Shkreli is pleading to be temporarily let out of prison in order to join in the fight against COVID-19, the disease that has swept across the globe infecting more than 1.3 million people across the globe.

Shkreli is seeking a three-month furlough from federal prison to help develop a potential treatment for the disease. In a scientific paper published this week co-authored by Shkreli, he argued that the pharmaceutical industry has had an inadequate response to the threat of COVID-19. First reported by STAT News, Shkreli said the industry has “a large braintrust of talent” that is not working on the COVID-19 problem due to a deprioritization of infectious disease research across the pharmaceutical landscape. All biopharmaceutical companies should be responding with all resources to combat this health emergency, he stressed.

“Medicinal chemists, structural biologists, enzymologists and assay development and research biology departments at EVERY pharmaceutical company should be put to work until COVID-19 is no more,” Shkreli wrote in the author’s note of the research paperIn silico screening for potential COVID-19 beta-coronavirus non-nucleoside RdRp inhibitors.” The paper is credited to Prospero Pharma, a company established by Shkreli in 2015.

Countless companies from across the pharmaceutical industry are taking aim at developing treatments and vaccines for COVID-19. Many companies are taking multiple shots on goal through their own internal R&D programs, as well as forging partnerships with other companies to tackle the issue from another angle. Not only are new drugs being developed, older pipeline drugs are being repurposed for the disease as well. BioSpace puts together a daily roundup of the industry’s response to COVID-19.

Shkreli added that he was requesting three months and noted that someone with his credentials should not be excluded from helping develop a treatment for the disease. He said he is a “successful two-time biopharma entrepreneur” who has not only purchased multiple companies but has also “invented multiple new drug candidates,” and also filed Investigational New Drug Applications and applications for clinical trials.

“I am one of the few executives experienced in ALL aspects of drug development from molecule creation and hypothesis generation, to preclinical assessments and clinical trial design/target engagement demonstration, and manufacturing/synthesis and global logistics and deployment of medicines,” he wrote.

In a complete turnaround to his arguments in support of the 5,000% price hike for the toxoplasmosis drug Daraprim and his follow-up laments that he didn’t increase the price even higher, Shkreli said any treatment developed for COVID-19 should be made available to the public for next to nothing. He said a company that develops a treatment should be able to recoup its research and development costs “at most” and should be “willing to perform the work as a civil service at the least.”

“If the government is willing to reward industry for their work on this catastrophic situation, it will be at each company’s discretion to accept, negotiate or deny such funding, including bulk purchases, cost reimbursement, tax credits and other benefits,” he added.

The paper Shkreli co-authored claims to have identified multiple drugs already in existence that could be used against COVID-19, including clofazimine, an anti-leprotic and antibiotic medication, as well as hepatitis C nucleoside analogs paritaprevir and ledipasvir. Other candidates include bafetinib, apilimod, and fimepinostat. The paper was co-authored with Kevin Mulleady, a longtime associate of Shkreli and current chairman of the board of Phoenixus AG, the parent company of Vyera Pharmaceuticals, LLC, the company formerly known as Turing Pharmaceuticals that Shkreli founded.

Shkreli was found guilty in 2017 on charges of securities fraud and one charge of conspiracy to commit conspiracy fraud. He is eligible for release in 2023.

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