Turing Pharma CEO Martin Shkreli Taunts Democratic Candidates on Social Media, Still Has Not Lowered Price for Daraprim

October 14, 2015
By Alex Keown, BioSpace.com Breaking News Staff

NEW YORK -- Turing Pharmaceuticals’ chief Martin Shkreli is not avoiding the limelight even after being dubbed the “most hated man in America” after raising the price of a 62-year-old drug to treat toxoplasmosis 5,000 percent.

On Tuesday, Shkreli used his Twitter account to taunt Democratic candidates for the presidential nomination who were addressing prescription price control. Shkreli challenged U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders about drug prices on his Twitter account, saying the drug is “overwhelmingly paid for” by corporate America and the insurance companies. He also tweeted that Sanders and former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton “hold uninformed view that fall apart under any scrutiny.”

Several lawmakers in Congress, including Sanders and Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Maryland Democrat, are calling for Shkreli to testify before Congress.

After news broke about the price increase, 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.

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.

After facing ridicule for the price increase, Shkreli said he will lower the price of Daraprim, but so far that has not happened. In an interview with Business Insider, Shkreli said he may lower the price, but it will depend on profitability. He said the company will want to ensure it recoups the $55 million it spent to acquire the drug in August. Until demand is determined, he said the company will not lower the price of the drug. He said the company spent months determining a price point for the drug before it was finally acquired and to keep it at the level it was sold prior to the acquisition was not sustainable.

“We will either make a small profit or break even as a company. We don’t want excessive profiteering. But the key word in profiteering is profit. We’re not profitable right now. Every big pharma [company] makes billions in profit. Turing doesn’t make a profit,” Business Insider quoted Shkreli as saying.

Turing may face a probe from New York State’s attorney general over violating anti-trust laws after it increased Daraprim’s price, Bloomberg reported this morning. The attorney general sent a letter to Shkreli urging him to contact their office immediately “to respond to concerns that the company’s sales practices were intended to deter generic pharmaceutical firms from creating alternatives to the drug,” Bloomberg said. In the letter, Eric Stock, the bureau’s chief said Turing is not permitting the drug to be sold in retail pharmacies, but rather is distributing it only through a small number of specialty pharmacies,” Bloomberg reported. Because of this, Turing may be inhibiting competition, the letter is reported as saying.

Turing acquired Daraprim from IMPAX Laboratories, Inc. 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 sought outside assistance from a Washington lobbying firm and a public relations firm to help make over his image. Still, Shkreli said he planned on maintaining his combative persona.

“I’ve been a jerk on the internet since the internet started. I’m not going to stop since I’ve had this success,” Shkreli told Business Insider.

In addition to his troubles with Daraprim, Shkreli is also the subject of a lawsuit from his former company, Retrophin . In August, Retrophin sued Shkreli for $65 million over his use of company funds while serving as chief executive officer of that company.