By Peter J. McDonnell, MD
According to the BBC—and I accept as brilliant and insightful truth anything told to me by someone with a British accent—Martin Shkreli is the most hated man in America.
A report by that prestigious news organization included descriptors such as “morally bankrupt sociopath,” “scumbag,” “garbage monster,” and “everything that is wrong with capitalism.”
Other people have been making fun of his looks. More than one television interviewer has offered the observation that Shkreli’s physical appearance resembles that of a typical villainous mastermind of a Bond film. “He’s only missing the white cat in his lap,” quipped one talk-show host.
Even his ex-girl friend, Katie, got in on the act. She posted conversations between herself (with her last name redacted) and the man of the hour from her FaceBook page purporting to show Shkreli offering her money in exchange for sex. Embarrassing. One may suspect, it appears, that the bloom is off the rose when it comes to that once amorous relationship. Never heard of Snapchat, Shkreli?
Candidates for the U.S. Presidency, who have never met the man, lined up to announce that they hate his guts. Only his mother, it seems, has yet to go public with her disdain for this CEO of a small pharmaceutical company.
What did this man do to engender such widespread repudiation? He is the opportunist, of course, who bought the only firm licensed by the FDA to manufacture and market the drug, pyrimethamine (Daraprim), and promptly raised the price from $13.50 per dose to $750. Widely described in the press as a drug for AIDS patients, we ophthalmologists are of course very familiar with this as a therapy for toxoplasma retinochoroiditis.
With what he thought was a shrewd business move, Shkreli touched a nerve. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 77% of Americans surveyed consider high drug prices to be a primary health concern, and this unloved chap is now officially the public face for this issue and a lightning rod for the angst and anger of that same public.
An ironic twist in this story is that, according to many, the hero saving the day is Imprimis Pharmaceuticals, owner of three compounding pharmacies, who announced it will sell the drug for $1 per dose. Compounding pharmacies, regulated as they are by the states and not the FDA, do not require the same license to make this medicine.
The irony is that compounding pharmacies were not long ago about as popular as Shkreli is today, related to an outbreak of fungal meningitis complicating the use of specially compounded steroids.