Martin Shkreli’s Twitter feed is more entertaining than anything that’s ever aired on reality TV. That even includes Moment of Truth, the short-lived Fox show that tore marriages apart by hooking spouses up to polygraphs and publicly peppering them with questions about infidelity.
Some of you are thinking, Martin Shkreli, I’ve heard that name before but I can’t place him. He’s the so-called “pharma bro,” the 32-year-old entrepreneur whose company, Turing Pharmaceuticals, purchased the rights in September to an antiparasitic drug used by AIDS and cancer patients. Before Shkreli got his hands on it, the drug cost $13.50 per tablet. Turing promptly raised the price by 5,556% to $750 per tablet.
As you’d expect, the outrage brigade on social media went nuts. Shkreli became the number one pariah on Facebook/Twitter/Reddit in no time. In and of itself that wasn’t noteworthy, after all, social media crowns a new villain every week (remember the dentist who liked to kill big lions, or the ESPN reporter who reamed out a towing company employee?).
Shkreli’s response is what turned the story to gold. No contrition, very little justification for his actions, just straight up trolling of his haters. The guy absorbed every awful thing the public had to say about him and rather than defending himself or explaining his actions, he essentially fired back, “U mad, bro?”
At that point, as social media tends to do, it moved on to the next thing to be outraged about. But the Shkreli story only got richer. The FBI arrested him in December for securities fraud arising from his time in charge of the hedge fund MSMB Capital, during which the government claims he operated a Ponzi scheme.
A normal person would shape up and keep a low profile on social media while under a federal investigation. But a true bro’s gonna bro out. Here’s a small sampling of what Shkreli’s done on Twitter:
- Bragged about paying $2 million for a Wu-Tang Clan album.
- Challenged politicians to “come at [him]” while in DC.
- Claimed he’d beat Bernie Sanders in a presidential election were he old enough to run.
- Hinted he was releasing a mixtape.
- Tweeted a picture of his federal subpoena and jokingly questioned its importance.
- Accused Sanders of hating America.
- Streamed a live feed from his office to his Twitter followers.
There’s much more. He goes at it with Bernie Sanders constantly on there, which is entertainment gold no matter where you fall on the political spectrum.
I try to stay away from politics and controversies on this blog, but allow me a minute to unpack my thoughts on the Shkreli debacle:
1) When Shkreli got around to offering an explanation for the price hike, it actually made sense if you understand how these drugs work. Shkreli claims that not a single person who needed the drug, Daraprim, was denied it because of money. Either insurance paid for it or Turing offered it for free. This explanation is not only believable but is actually fairly common in pharma. Companies charge more than necessary for drugs knowing that insurance will pay and they escape scrutiny on what happens to the uninsured by simply giving the drugs to the ones who can’t pay out of pocket. My biggest qualm is that insurance company expenditures don’t exist in a vacuum. The companies that had to shell out for Daraprim passed those costs to customers, which could be you or me.
2) He also provides a decent explanation for the magnitude of the price hike. The obscene profits would be reinvested into research and development, improving the drug so it can save even more lives. Do I believe his intentions were entirely, or even mostly pure? Of course not. But even if he’s driven by greed, clearly a lot of the money did go to R&D. If it results in something that saves lives, does it matter what motivation drove that result? In other words, does the end justify the means? He has a compelling argument that it does. Which brings me to my next point:
3) Bernie Sanders claims “the greed of the pharmaceutical companies is killing Americans.” He’s wrong. In fact, the opposite is true. Pharma companies have saved countless lives precisely because they’re driven by profit. HIV used to be a guaranteed death sentence, now it’s mostly an inconvenience, and the reason is because pharma companies, motivated by money, innovated and developed groundbreaking drugs that keep the virus from destroying the infected’s immune system. Think of how many types of cancer are manageable now that weren’t 30 or 40 years ago. Again, it’s because pharma companies pour themselves into R&D knowing they’ll be well-compensated if they innovate the next big cure. The government isn’t curing these diseases, nor is Bernie Sanders. It’s the “greedy” folks he excoriates at every turn.
4) I have no idea if Shkreli is guilty of securities fraud or if the Ponzi allegations are true. The fact he’s planning to plead the Fifth doesn’t lend confidence to the idea he’s innocent, but this could be trolling as well and not his actual legal strategy. At this point nothing would surprise me from this guy — a sex tape with a senator’s wife, defection to North Korea, a rap collaboration with Eminem’s daughter. That’s why I’m staying tuned, and you should, too. If you’re not following Shkreli on Twitter, do it now. And follow me too while you’re at it. Good things are ahead.