Martin Shkreli is up to the same old antics that landed him squarely--and seemingly permanently--in the middle of a virtual mob.
Once again he's taken an obscure drug for a rare disease and talked about jacking up the bill beyond the stratosphere. Once again patients and payers are nervous and upset about predatory pricing. And once again the brouhaha has been stoked by The New York Times, which has been making a beat out of the boy blunder of biotech.
Shkreli's latest ploy involves taking a drug for Chagas disease, acquired for pocket change, and steering it to the FDA for a potential near-term approval--largely absent any significant R&D expense or anything else related to actual innovation. That little trick may earn a priority review voucher that could be sold for hundreds of millions of dollars and set up another pricing gambit.
Most people or companies running schemes like this would do everything possible to stay hidden from public sight. But intoxicated by the notoriety he's gained by jacking up the price of another obscure drug by 5000-plus percent, then reneging on a promise to cut the price while touting some hospital discounts, Shkreli is now going from scheme to scheme like a honeybee in a Disney cartoon. And he clearly loves the spotlight as biotech's most widely hated player.
Hide? Shkreli wouldn't dream of it. Instead, the anti-Robin Hood--taking money from patients and payers and sticking it into his own pocket--is gleefully sticking his finger in every eye that presents itself. The fact that he's not breaking any price gouging laws--just taking business-as-usual practices on inflated drug pricing to a ludicrous extreme while gaming FDA regulations with low-budget biotech deals--is what the industry finds so galling.
That bright light of public attention has more than just Valeant ($VRX) sweating now.
And this is one industry PR train wreck that keeps getting worse. He goes from price gouging on Daraprim to running a vicious short squeeze on KaloBios ($KBIO), driving a worthless stock to north of $27. Now comes Chagas disease. All in a matter of weeks. As Shkreli has shown, there's no end of scheming possible in biopharma.
Shkreli fatigue is already abundant in biopharma. But Shkreli has found a formula that works well for him. And there are plenty of new games to play once these new schemes are done.
Cardio writer Larry Husten (@cardiobrief) noted on Twitter over the weekend that we'd be better off just dropping Martin Shkreli's name from biopharma coverage, like refusing to name a terrorist organization that claims credit for a bombing. But as I noted, as long as Shkreli personifies the pricing issue, that's not going to happen anytime soon.
Shkreli smirked back quickly on Twitter: "So much jealousy rn."
In Shkreli's playbook, each new controversy is a big win. As long as Congress and candidates can only scold his latest moneymaking drug prank (and who sees that ending?), these games will continue in the public spotlight. -- John Carroll, @JohnCFierce.