Everybody’s favourite figurehead for the money grubbing ways of the pharmaceutical industry, Martin “Pharma Bro” Shkreli, has been working the angles ever since he tiptoed out of prison in May last year. He’s taken potshots into the tech industry through a kind of “crypto-based drug discovery platform,” and he’s been making a scene telling criminally charged crypto bros that “jail’s not so bad.”
But his attempt to regain the attention of the drug industry may bite him in the posterior, as a federal agency wants the courts to take him to task for violating an order he never, ever work in the pharmaceutical industry again.
On Friday, the Federal Trade Commission asked a federal judge to hold Shkreli in contempt of court, saying the Pharma Bro wasn’t giving the agency the information it required to determine if he’s trying to break back into the pharmaceutical industry.
Back in 2015, Shkreli’s pharmaceutical company Turing (later rebranded Vyera) bought the rights to the drug Daraprim, which is used to treat people with HIV and AIDS. The buyout meant the drug was pulled from pharmacy shelves. Shkreli then hiked the price of the drug 5,000%, from $US13.50 ($19) per pill to $US750 ($1,041) per pill.
In a release, the FTC said Shkreli has ignored the agency’s request for compliance reports and interview requests. FTC competition bureau chief Holly Vedova said the agency is ready to “deploy the full scope of its authorities to enable a comprehensive investigation.”
Though both state and federal entities have sued the ex-CEO, Shkreli was never charged for his scheme to hike up prices of the life-saving drug Daraprim. Instead, federal prosecutors charged him with securities fraud unrelated to the Daraprim controversy. He was sentenced to seven years in prison and was ordered to pay a $US7.4 ($10) million fine (though of course, he got out in only four years on early release). In 2020, the FTC sued Vyera for violating antitrust laws for trying to block generic competition for the drug. In the resulting settlement, Vyera was forced to pay $US40 ($56) million in relief to consumers over 10 years. Early in 2022, a Manhattan federal court judge also held Shkreli liable in the antitrust suit and permanently banned him from “directly or indirectly” working within the pharma industry. He was also meant to pay a $US64.6 ($90) million fine.
Shkreli has been out of prison for closing in on a year now, and since then he tried to co-found Druglike, a company that wanted to “democratize” drug discovery with the use of blockchain tech and cryptocurrencies. Unfortunately for Shkreli, unknown actors reportedly hacked the account holding all the crypto tokens the company planned to use.
The FTC cited Druglike in its court docs and said it had requested information about the company but did not receive anything back by the multiple November and December deadlines. The agency mentioned that the former pharma exec promised he would send over documents via email complaining there were “too many.”
New York-based attorney Brianne Murphy is listed in the FTC complaint as Shkreli’s most recent counsel. In a phone interview, Murphy told us that though she doesn’t represent Shkreli in the matter of the FTC order, they plan to “resolve the misunderstanding quickly” by supplying the supplemental information requested.
Murphy added that they do not believe Druglike is a violation of the FTC order since Druglike is a “software company, not a pharmaceutical company.”
Though the FTC may disagree with that supposed nomenclature. Court docs point out that Shkreli and Druglike have talked up how they will disrupt pharma companies with their product. One line quoted directly from the company’s initial press release was “We will disrupt the economics of the drug business by allowing a wide pool of innovators and contributors, rather than only pharmaceutical giants, to profit from drug discovery.”
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