Turing Pharma CEO Martin Shkreli Looks to Make Over Image, Hires Washington Lobbyists

October 8, 2015
By Alex Keown, BioSpace.com Breaking News Staff

NEW YORK – After being all but hanged in effigy for a 5,000 percent price increase on a 62-year-old drug, Martin Shkreli, chief executive officer of Turing Pharmaceuticals, is looking to make over his image, Reuters reported this morning.

Shkreli was excoriated by the media as well as social media users after his company increased the price for Daraprim from $13.50 per tablet to $750 per tablet, an increase of about 5,000 percent. That dramatic price increase earned Shkreli the moniker of “most hated man” in America, among others. It also made him the target of politicians and parodies on Saturday Night Live.

Citing Activist Shorts Research founder Adam Kommel, Reuters reported Shkreli saying he has a “very expensive, well-articulated” image plan that involved an unknown number of image and media advisers.

What his new image will be remains to be seen, but Reuters noted that Shkreli plans to maintain his “combative attitude” that includes pointed retorts aimed at critics on social media outlets like Twitter. In his interview with Kommel, Shkreli said it was important to remain true to who you are and that despite the makeover, he did not believe it would “dramatically change the way I act,” Reuters reported.

“If you react to how people act to you, you end up being a ghost of yourself, and that’s one of the worst things that could happen,” Shkreli was reported to have said.

Turing acquired Daraprim from Impax Pharmaceuticals for $55 million in August. Daraprim is used to treat toxoplasmosis, a parasite that threatens those who have compromised immune systems, such as cancer and HIV patients, as well as pregnant women. The drug is used by about 2,000 people in the United States annually for an average period of about six to 12 weeks. It is the only drug approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat the parasite.

Shkreli has since said he will lower the price of Daraprim, but what that new price point is, has yet to be publicly revealed. Still, that has not been enough for some lawmakers in Washington. Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Maryland Democrat, is calling for Shkreli to testify before Congress. Cummings is also urging Congress to hold hearings on the rising costs of prescription drugs. Former U.S. Secretary of State and current Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said if she is elected she would cap monthly out-of-pocket costs for prescription drugs at $250. Her comment sent the stock market into a state of flux, with several large companies seeing a drop in their stock of up to 10 percent. The Nasdaq Biotechnology Index dropped 4.4 percent and the SPDR S&P Biotech ETF dropped by 6 percent.

While Turing has been the main target of ridicule, some Turing associates said they have also been on the receiving end of hate mail and ugly comment. Some of the outside agencies hired to help Turing with its public perception problems have drawn the ire of public anger over high prescription drug prices, the Washington Post reported. Allan Ripp, who runs a public relations firm in New York and handles communications for Turing, told the Post the comments he receives due to his association with the company are “vicious, hateful, in bucketfuls.”

The scandal has caused one Turing official to resign. Craig Rothenberg, a former executive with Johnson & Johnson who served as Turing’s communications officer, stepped down after the Daraprim news broke, the Post said.

In addition to working on fixing his own image, Turing has secured the assistance of lobbyists at Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, a Pittsburgh-based law firm, to deal with politicians calling for congressional hearings on prescription drug prices.

In addition to his image makeover, Shkreli, a former hedge fund manager, said he was planning to short PTC Therapeutics Inc. because he’s “very dubious” that its lead pipeline product for muscular dystrophy will work, Reuters said.