Turing Pharmaceuticals CEO Martin Shkreli has been called plenty of names this week, including some expletives: Public Enemy No. 1, a villain, the most hated man in America/the Internet/the world. Even Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump jumped in, ripping the 32-year-old former hedge fund manager as a "spoiled brat."
It's one thing for your critics to pile on when you've done something distasteful like jack up the price of a life-saving drug 4,000 percent overnight, but in Shkreli's case his supposed friends took their own stabs at their former "pharma bro."
In the hours after Shkreli's defiant, hot-headed Tweets and TV interviews went viral, leaders of the country's powerful drug industry trade group got together to determine whether they should weigh in and, if so, what they should say.
The result was this Tweet:
— PhRMA (@PhRMA) September 22, 2015
In its more than 55 years, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) has been known to circle the wagons and protect its own when there is controversy. With the tens of millions it spends on lobbying a year, the organization is credited with being able to sway sentiment on Capitol Hill and with the public to help get its members what they want in everything from appropriations for basic research to new provisions in the Affordable Care Act that help patients afford prescription drugs — and add dollars to their own bottom lines.
But in Shkreli's case, his company's decision and his unapologetic public comments about how "altruistic" this was hit a nerve.
Shkreli's flip-flop on the price of Daraprim, which is used to treat a life-threatening parasitic infection in patients with immune issues like HIV/AIDS and cancer, did little to improve his relationship with the rest of the industry. Hours after he insisted on national television that the $750-a-pill price on the formerly $18-a-pill drug was the right one for business reasons, he announced that he would lower the price — a move that galvanized critics and set a precedent for other companies to do the same.
And so PhRMA disavowed the 32-year-old former hedge fund manager, drawing a bright line between him — the Turing CEO — and us, their own members.
On Wednesday, things got worse for Shkreli as BIO, the biotech industry association, gave him the boot.
"Turing Pharmaceuticals was a member of BIO for a brief period of time and is currently no longer a member," a spokesman for the organization told FierceBiotech, a daily newsletter for the industry. "The company and its leadership do not reflect the commitment to innovation and values that are at the core of BIO's reputation and mission. For that reason, BIO determined, after a review of Turing's membership status, that the company did not meet our eligibility criteria, and we took action to rescind its membership and return its membership dues."
The secret truth, however: Shkreli is far from the only drug company executive to set what critics say are exorbitant prices, and he certainly won't be the last.
In 2012, doctors at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center balked at the price of a then-new colorectal cancer drug called Zaltrap that would cost $11,000 a month. Writing in an op-ed in the New York Times, they argued that the new treatment is no better than an older one. In response, Sanofi cut the price in half.
Last year, Gilead Sciences was called to Congress to explain the $1,000-a-day or $84,000-a-course price tag for its hepatitis C medicine Sovaldi. At the time, PhRMA President John Castellani argued that the debate over drug pricing has gone "askew" and that research at development for such drugs comes at a high cost to companies. "Their lives, in short, will be transformed," he said, according to Reuters. "The value to these patients, and to their loved ones and society — you can't put a price tag on it."
This summer, a group of prominent cystic fibrosis doctors and their patients were up in arms over the pricing of a drug called Orkambi, which Vertex Pharmaceuticals set at $259,000 per year wholesale. “It’s egregious,” California scientist Paul M. Quinton, who has cystic fibrosis, told the Boston Globe. “This is more than five times the annual salary of the average American family. How can they in good conscience charge that much?”
Vertex has defended its pricing, saying that the drug has a small patient pool, is very effective and that the company made large investments in time and money to bring the medicine to market. As Forbes pointed out, the company has been in business for 26 years and only turned a profit once.
There are plenty of other crazy-expensive drugs out there as well. Soliris, made by Alexion Pharmaceuticals, is considered to be the most expensive medicine on the market in the United States. Used to treat a rare blood disorder, it costs nearly $537,000 a year.
Glybera may be the first seven-figure drug, with a price of $1.21 million a year, according to the Motley Fool. It's a gene therapy treatment for an extremely rare condition known as familial lipoprotein lipase deficiency and may only have a market of 150 to 200 people in the European Union, where it has been approved.
This post has been updated.
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