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CEO Martin Shkreli: 4,000 percent drug price hike is ‘altruistic,’ not greedy

Watch: Here's the deal with the $750-pill guy (Video: Gillian Brockell/The Washington Post)
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Martin Shkreli — the embattled chief executive of Turing Pharmaceuticals who has been criticized in recent days for raising the price of a 62-year-old drug by more than 4,000 percent overnight — has been misunderstood.

At least that's the main message from his appearances on various TV news shows Monday and Tuesday. In an interview on "CBS This Morning," Shkreli told reporter Don Dahler that the drug in question, Daraprim, was unprofitable at the old price.

Daraprim, which is used to treat a life-threatening condition called toxoplasmosis caused by parasitic infection, had been sold for $18 a pill by the company that previously held the rights to the drug. But when Turing bought the medicine last month, it immediately raised the price to $750 a pill — a move that some patient advocates calculated would bring the annual cost of treatment for a single person to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Shkreli didn't do himself or his company any favors over the weekend when the news of the price spike went viral online after an HIV/AIDS group complained of the increase and he took to his Twitter account to admonish anyone who dared to question the business decision.

He was markedly more humble Monday and Tuesday in on-camera interviews with Bloomberg News, CNBC and CBS and in phone conversations with other news outlets, and emphasized that the move was all about the patients.

[CEO who raised price of old pill more than $700 calls journalist a ‘moron’ for asking why]

"Our first and primary stakeholder is patients. There's no doubt about that," he said on CBS. He said that the price of the drug had been so low that "any company selling it would be losing money" and that at the new price, there would be "a reasonable profit, not excessive at all."

"I can see how it looks greedy, but I think there's a lot of altruistic properties to it," he said.

He said that with the new profits, the company could invest in researching a new drug for the condition.

On CNBC, Shkreli was told by the anchor that she just spoke with an HIV doctor who said that a better version of the drug is not needed.

"That's not true," he responded. "There's a recent paper that suggests that two patients died due to autoimmune encephalitis from toxoplasmosis, so there's a lot of people who die from toxoplasmosis every year and this field desperately needs new ways to treat toxoplasmosis."

She then told him that doctors she had spoken to were alarmed that some patients can no longer afford the drug and asked him, "Do you feel badly about what's happening?"

"No," Shkreli said. "In fact, we're increasing access to patients. ... We're dramatically increasing the access to Daraprim, lowering co-pays, giving away more drug for free. Half of the drug we give away is for $1. So I don't know what you're talking about."

He said that the company bought the drug knowing it would raise the price so that it could make an appropriate profit "but not any kind of ridiculous profit."

When pressed at the end of the interview about calls from doctors and patient groups for the company to reconsider its position and lower the price, Shkreli's answer was a firm "No."

The response to Shkreli's explanations has been mixed on Twitter, with some saying they now have a better understanding of the company's decision-making process and others saying that the chief executive came out sounding even worse than before. The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the drug industry's power trade group, had an opinion, too, and sent this tweet Tuesday to its nearly 33,000 followers:

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