Industry "Villain" Shkreli Ruffles Feathers at Forbes Healthcare Summit

December 9, 2015

The All-Star CEO panel last week’s Forbes Healthcare Summit was overshadowed by Matthew Herper’s interview with industry’s leading villain, Martin Shkreli, showing that drug pricing is still the leading topic on everyone’s minds.

The main event of last week’s Forbes Healthcare Summit, an All-Star CEO panel was preceded and overshadowed by its undercard event, Matthew Herper’s interview with industry’s leading villain. What was clearly demonstrated, surprise, that drug pricing is still the leading topic on everyone’s minds.

Leading up to the annual Forbes Healthcare Summit, I took a glance at the schedule. I must say I was surprised to see internet-infamous Martin Shkreli, CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals and Daraprim price hiking fame. It’s not that Mr Shkreli isn’t consistently newsworthy and controversial, but it doesn’t really seem like his kind of crowd.

His disdain for the event was apparent immediately given his unshaven, hoodie and jeans combo that might have been considered underdress even in the most relaxed west coast biotech setting. More so, his scorn was clearly felt when he seemed to talk down to a reporter/cameraman during the Q&A session, practically probing the questioner’s credential to pose a question at the forum as “just” a cameraman.

The minor faux pas with the reporter was dwarfed by Shkreli’s apparent (or feigned) failure to recognize Steve Miller, CMO of Express Scripts, profiled in our December 2014 issue. While we at PharmExec are only slightly miffed that Skreli missed that issue, we’re certain that the drug price crusader’s identity was well known to every other attendee in the Forbes crowd.

The exchange is interesting, however. After thanking Miller for his business, Shkreli gets to Miller’s question about Turing’s interaction with the infectious disease community. Shkreli seems to boast a better level of intimacy and/or understanding of the community, saying that Turing’s practices are acceptable, given their R&D in toxoplasmosis that has been ignored. He contrasts Turing and ESI, saying his company does innovation, while Miller’s limits it.

I’m glad that Forbes also posted the entire interview, but as is the way of our modern world, Shkreli has again left the mainstream media, and Twittersphere, with a couple of solid gold sound bites suited for the 140-character format. Given the medium and the character he’s developed, Shkreli is so perfectly molded to strike a cord of hatred that his routine seems almost like performance art digging at the evils of our capitalist industry.

My theory is Martin Shkreli is a long term anti-capitalist who worked through the system so he could make this point https://t.co/GMMVr97X3E

- Victoria (@vvmcell) December 7, 2015

And statements like the fact that he wishes he’d raised the price even higher, sure have generated a lot of ink from: Forbes (among several)

Martin Shkreli says he should have charged even more for a $750 pill https://t.co/K2arA9hmlEpic.twitter.com/nL4OGagWaV

- Forbes (@Forbes) December 7, 2015

CNBC

Shkreli: "Idea that there's something wrong w capitalism & that pharmaceuticals are exempt from capitalistic ideals is insane" #forbesrx

- Meg Tirrell (@megtirrell) December 3, 2015

Vox

Martin Shkreli may be a jerk. His comments yesterday were unbelievable. But health care needs him. https://t.co/rsr5aTgHSA

- Dan Diamond (@ddiamond) December 4, 2015

NYTimes

He was bashed after raising the price of a drug from $13.50 to $750 a pill overnight. But he's still smiling. https://t.co/Hk5VqDQm6H

- The New York Times (@nytimes) December 5, 2015

As his primary defense, Shkreli answered the questions/criticism regarding the company’s decision not to lower daraprim’s price by citing Delaware law, and his responsibility to his shareholders to maximize profits. It will be interesting to see if others agree with his interpretation of the law -- maximizing near-term goals with extravagant prices and seeking long-term earnings by investing in R&D, while building substantial animosity among industry partners and the community who may go to extremes to defeat him.

ESI Drive Access to $1 Alternative to #Daraprim-Imprimis Pharma-partner w Express Scripts to counterbalance #Turinghttps://t.co/R6jgpECzp9

- Pharm Exec Magazine (@PharmExecutive) December 2, 2015

Intriguingly, Shkreli seems to flip flop on whether he’s proud of what he does. When asked about ethics and reputation, he responded that “No one wants to say it, no one’s proud of it…my investors expect me to maximize profits,” speaking of the “the ugly, dirty truth” of fiduciary responsibility.

As the more senior panel members that followed him might attest, industry and profits aren’t ugly. Inventing treatments and getting them to patients is a win-win for patients and developers. And earning a profit from an honest exchange of money for goods and services is indeed a moral endeavor. Though he might be past heeding to criticism on his communications practices, it would be nice if Martin attempted to defend the merits of capitalism rather than using it as an excuse as the system that’s in place, unfortunately. As it is, it seems that he’s ashamed of what he does. The industry’s top CEOs were quick to distance themselves from Shkreli.

$MRK CEO Frazier on Turing's Shkreli: "He is not us. We are the research-based pharmaceutical industry." #forbesrx

- Jonathan Rockoff (@jonathanrockoff) December 3, 2015

#forbesrx panel featuring big players in biopharma - CEOs of @Merck, @Celgene, @pfizer, @regeneron, and @GSKpic.twitter.com/cPo9JOZUei

- Alex Rosen (@AlexRRosen) December 3, 2015

"We all have a role to play in creating a sustainable health system." - Ken Frazier at #forbesrxpic.twitter.com/S7hk3aUpVy

- Merck (@Merck) December 3, 2015

"We do some pretty crappy things; some were your guests," $REGN CEO says, re @MartinShkreli. "That guy's not in same biz as us." #forbesrx

- Meg Tirrell (@megtirrell) December 3, 2015