In a moment of candor no doubt brought on by some personal animosity, Martin Shkreli let down his guard on Sunday and told me exactly why he hiked the price of a 62-year-old drug by more than 5000%.
"It's a great business decision that also benefits all of our stakeholders," Shkreli told me on Twitter. "I don't expect the likes of you to process that." He then called me a moron, and later bragged about flipping off the media.
So there you have it. The unvarnished truth. It was a business decision. It was about money. And screw you.
Come Monday morning, though, as his blunt remark started to blow up on Reddit and Gawker and Twitter and Hillary Clinton started discussing price controls, talk about business decisions and flipping off reporters didn't quite fit the protocols of damage control. And Shkreli adopted the same pious defense that all industry execs turn to when the mood gets harsh.
Instantly, Shkreli transformed into a paradigm of virtue. The move to raise the price of Daraprim from $13.50 a pill to $750 days after buying control of the medicine was all done for patients. The money would finance precious research into vitally needed new drugs that would benefit suffering individuals.
While raucous Web groups were letting him have it, it was amazing to me how often the most prestigious media outlets in the country gave him a pass, even after he had provided them with a statement of unequivocal defiance. If Shkreli wanted to adopt the Good Samaritan defense, he was evidently entitled to it, in their opinion.
In this industry, patients are always the first and last excuse for everything. If you waste $400 million on a dumb Phase III study, it was done for your love of patients. If you charge $150,000 for a bad cancer drug that gives a person an extra four weeks of misery, you were doing it for them.
I'll never forget one chat in which a senior Big Pharma dealmaker told me in no uncertain terms that only patients matter, numbers don't. This is someone who's paid to care about numbers. Who surrounds himself with experts to manage numbers. Whose livelihood depends on numbers.
I'm sure that some execs would tell a cop they ordered the Uber driver to double-park on Fifth Avenue to help benefit patients. It's no wonder that Shkreli, once again in the hot seat for profiteering on old drugs, did the same thing.
It's time for the industry to come up with a better reason for why we get up in the morning, and a more credible approach for dealing with controversies. Real innovation costs a lot of money and deserves to be well compensated. That model has created an industry which is seeing tens of billions of dollars being pumped into new product development. It has provided the world with a painless cure for hep C and huge advances in oncology in just the last few years. And much, much more.
It's OK to do good work for money. You also don't have to play the Good Samaritan defense in the wake of a blunder. And it shouldn't be allowed for execs like Shkreli, who is using the country's no-holds-barred policy on drug prices to generate some fast cash.
If you make a mistake, don't play the same weak card. Not unless you want to find Martin Shkreli standing right beside you, shoulder to shoulder. That's the kind of public relations disaster that this industry can no longer afford. -- John Carroll, editor-in-chief (email | Twitter)