Condemn Martin Shkreli’s price increase of AIDS medication
One would assume that the path to success at a pharmaceutical company would include a degree in a field of science — preferably chemistry. If you are Martin Shkreli, however, all you need is money and a pompous attitude. Martin Shkreli is the founder and CEO of the budding company Turing Pharmaceuticals. He is also notable for raising the price of a potentially beneficial HIV/AIDS medication from $13.50 per tablet to $750 per tablet.
This may sound ridiculous, but Shkreli knows exactly what he is doing. Shkreli has a bachelor’s degree from Baruch College and experience working on Wall Street, so he knows how to make and manipulate money. However, when human health is at stake, he is in over his head. By wrongfully increasing the price of a beneficial HIV/AIDS drug, Shkreli has demonstrated his greed and value of money over human life.
The drug surrounding this controversy, Daraprim, is one that was patented in 1953 and marketed as an anti-protozoan medication. When paired with another antibacterial drug, a sulfonamide, the combination can be used to treat infections common in HIV/AIDS patients. Daraprim is a nearly 70-year-old drug, and because of this, it was not of much interest to large pharmaceutical companies, allowing Shkreli acquire the rights to this drug for 55 million dollars, a relatively low price.
According to a Sept. 22, 2015 Huffington Post article, only 2,000 people use Daraprim each year, because only individuals who are ailed by HIV/AIDS, cancer or other conditions that may compromise their immune system are the ones who can suffer from toxoplasmosis, this drug’s main focus. Toxoplasmosis is a disease resulting from the introduction of a parasite through undercooked food or infected animals, and it leads to several flu-like symptoms. If millions of people across the U.S. suffered from the effects of toxoplasmosis, a price increase would be beneficial for the company because it would generate a significant revenue that could go toward improving the drug — but this is not the case. Since so few people rely on the drug, making it unaffordable is not only hurting the few that need this medication, but it is also hurting the company, because if those that rely on the drug cannot afford it, the price hike is worthless.
When asked about the price hike, according to a Sept. 22, 2015 Daily Mail article, Shkreli callously replied, “If there’s a company that was selling an Aston Martin at the price of a bicycle and we buy that company and we charge Toyota prices, I don’t think that should be a crime. We’re simply charging the right price that the markets missed.” Yes, because making a life-saving medication unaffordable is simply fixing the error that the markets missed.
According to the same Daily Mail article, Shkreli claims that “this is a disease where there hasn’t been one pharmaceutical company focused on it for 70 years. We’re now a company that is dedicated to the treatment and cure of toxoplasmosis. And with these new profits we can spend all of that upside on these patients who sorely need a new drug.” Shkreli makes an excellent point here; the drug is nearly 70 years old, so the science involved is outdated. With that in mind, why is a new pharmaceutical company suddenly taking interest with the claims of using the revenue to improve the product? Despite the drug’s age, it is still the most effective toxoplasmosis treatment available, and while a cure would be fantastic, patients should not have to suffer while potentially better treatment is still being researched due to the inability to afford the best available treatment
Considering Shkreli’s past at a hedge fund, the truth is clear. Hedge funds basically make any investments they deem necessary in order to generate maximum profit, so this could be just another business venture: buy a relatively inexpensive patent and then sell the drug at an extreme markup to maximize profit.
This is not Shkreli’s first time buying and reselling drugs for an inflated price. At his last company, Retrophin, he bought and resold a drug to treat a rare form of kidney disease for a 2000 percent increase — going from $1.50 a tablet to $30 a tablet. These buying-and-selling tactics may work well on paper, but when the health of individuals is at stake, profit should not a motivating force.
In an apparent — albeit feeble — attempt to increase affordability, Turing Pharmaceuticals has created copayment assistance programs for individuals with private insurance, as well as donation programs to help those who are deemed eligible, according to a Sept. 22, 2015 Huffington Post article. However, even with these special programs or insurance mitigating the cost for users, someone still ends up paying more because of one man’s greed.
When Shkreli was brought to a congressional hearing on Feb. 4, he was less than willing to cooperate. The goal of the hearing was to determine why Shkreli raised the drug price so incredibly high and to try to understand his bizarre reasoning.
Every question he was asked resulted in him invoking his Fifth Amendment protection from self-incrimination, accompanied by a smug smirk. His refusal to answer any questions resulted in his eventual dismissal from the hearing. In this way, he has made it painfully obvious that he just does not care about what he has done. If he felt that he was justified in raising the price of the drug and that there are solid reasons for doing so, he would have been ready to give those reasons at the hearing. Instead, he acted like a coward and hid behind the Fifth Amendment for every question but the one asking how to pronounce his name. He knows what he did was immoral, and that is exactly why he cannot give any reasoning for his actions; there is none. He has this insatiable greed accompanied by a wealth that he tries to flaunt at every chance possible. It is just sad that individuals with possibly life-threatening illnesses have to live in pain because of one immature person.