The Shkreli scandal leaves a big mess for biotech to clean up

It turns out that being called a moron by Martin Shkreli at the beginning of a week such as this is like being mocked by the villain in a James Bond movie. The audience will love you for it.

Shkreli handed me my 15 minutes of fame on Sunday, in a retort tied to his defiant remark about hiking the price of a drug used by AIDS patients by more than 5000%. No doubt he thought it was withering. But it simply helped define him as an immature jerk in a global, online backlash of biblical proportions. 

Animators in Taiwan made fun of him and talk show hosts discovered a new meme as Shkreli blew up on the most popular web hangouts. And I felt just a small part of that bright light of attention as the digital crowd roared. An Internet mob can be a bit terrifying to watch, even from the sidelines.

Shkreli's arguments that he had simply found the right market price for a drug that would raise money needed for vital research was booed on every continent as self-serving hogwash. It was like trying to sell Ebola at a country fair. Even my adult children, who really only have a rather vague interest in biotech, paid attention to this story. My email and Twitter stream have erupted in ways that you hear about, but won't believe until it actually happens to you.

Martin Shkreli

Last night Shkreli tried to bow out of the mess he had made, promising to cut the price of Daraprim to the break-even point--though he didn't say just what that is. Given his credibility with the public right now, though, you can bet that his next move will be closely watched.

In the meantime, he's taken his Twitter account private after vowing to stay out of the limelight. 

The biotech industry, though, won't get off so lightly. The industry now has to deal with the fact that drug pricing has taken center stage in presidential politics. And the story of Daraprim, Martin Shkreli and price gouging left a wound that will take some time to heal. Biotech is not Shkreli, of course, but it will have to prove it now with some sensible discussions on real innovation and pricing.

My 15 minutes is about up, now. These things burn hot and fast. But there's lots of work ahead. -- John Carroll (email | Twitter)