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This Week In Terrible People: Martin Shkreli, 32

This Week In Terrible People: Martin Shkreli, 32

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Ex-hedge fund manager raises old AIDS drug price by 5,500 percent.

A 62-year-old drug that is used to fight off parasitic infections went from costing $13.50 per pill to $750 overnight, according to The New York Times. And it's all thanks to 32-year-old ex-hedge fund manager Martin Shkreli. 

The drug, pyrimethamine (brand name Daraprim), is often used for people battling AIDS, malaria, cancer, pregnancy, and other immune-weakening conditions to treat toxoplasmosis. About 2,000 Americans use the drug. It is also listed as an essential drug by the World Health Organization

Now, the exclusive marketing rights for the drug have been purchased by Turing Pharmaceuticals, a startup company founded by Shkreli. With no evidence of improvement to the drug, Turing raised the price of Daraprim by 5,500 percent and increased annual cost of the drug into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

In an interview with Bloomberg, Shkreli attempted to clear the air around the controversy, stating that Turing "had to turn a profit on this drug" and that compared to other life-saving courses of treatment, Daraprim was still "underpriced."

"We are the first company to really focus on this product and that’s a really great thing because ultimately the companies before us were actually just giving it away almost," said Shkreli. He then went on to say that "actually you only need less than 100 pills so you know at the end of the day the price per course of treatment to save your life was only $1,000. And we know that these days modern pharmaceuticals, cancer drugs, cost $100,000 or more, whereas these drugs cost half a million dollars. Daraprim is still underpriced relative to its peers."

Shkreli also said in the interview that the company would introduce new programs that would increase the accessibility of the drug with payment assistance and that the company would not deny anyone Daraprim because they could not pay. He also explained that the company would provide the drug free of charge until payment could be worked out with an insurance provider, saying that was something no other company had done before. 

Shkreli also claims that the price hike was necessary because despite the low cost of manufacturing the drug ($1 per pill), other costs such as distribution and labor had gone up. He also stated the increase was necessary in order to fund scientific research for new treatments for toxoplasmosis, which he estimates could cost $1 billion. He continued to defend himself on Twitter: 

I guess some people think Daraprim access will decline instead of increase. I guarantee better access at lower prices to patients than ever. — Martin Shkreli (@MartinShkreli) September 21, 2015

The New York Times notes that this price increase is the latest in a series of essential drugs with skyrocketing prices. Drugs that treat cancer, hepatitis C, high cholesterol, and tuberculosis have shot up in price in the past year to outcry from both the government and independent health care providers. The Times said that while some of these price increases were due to shortages, others were due to companies buying rights to old pharmaceuticals and repackaging them as "specialty drugs" in order to raise the price and turn a profit. 

The reaction to the price increase has been swift and angry. The Infectious Disease Society of America and the HIV Medicine Association wrote a joint letter to Shkreli and Turing Pharmaceuticals imploring the company to reconsider the $750 price and stated that Turing had "no justification for an increase of this magnitude for a medication approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1953." The letter also stated that health care providers were now having difficulty stocking Daraprim. 

In a far more vitriolic letter, the Human Rights Campaign shamed Turing and Shkreli over the increase that mostly affects HIV-positive patients and pregnant women in the US. 

"Your greed in raising the single-pill price from less than $15 to more than $750 is unconscionable," said the HRC. "You have publicly shrugged off the concerns and alarm raised by medical professionals and ethicists, which suggests that only action by the government will stem this type of unscrupulous drug pricing. We will pursue every avenue to ensure you are held to account." 

Later, HRC sent a letter to New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman asking him to investigate recent actions by New York-based Turing Pharmaceuticals to increase the price of the drug Daraprim by 5000 percent.

Shkreli has stopped taking interview requests, changed his Twitter to private, and announced that he will clear the air on ABC Nightly News

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Ryan is the Digital Director of The Advocate Channel, and a graduate of NYU Tisch's Department of Dramatic Writing. She is also a member of GALECA, the LGBTQ+ society of entertainment critics. While her specialties are television writing and comedy, Ryan is a young member of the LGBTQ+ community passionate about politics and advocating for all.

Ryan is the Digital Director of The Advocate Channel, and a graduate of NYU Tisch's Department of Dramatic Writing. She is also a member of GALECA, the LGBTQ+ society of entertainment critics. While her specialties are television writing and comedy, Ryan is a young member of the LGBTQ+ community passionate about politics and advocating for all.