Martin Shkreli might be the most infamous character in the modern pharma industry. Dubbed the 'Pharma Bro,' Shkreli is widely known for hiking the price of Daraprim, a life-saving drug several years ago.
Why is He Called Pharma Bro?
After the world learned of his scheme, his behavior catapulted him into internet troll infamy. His signature smirk in the face of loud opposition was ever-present throughout his ordeal. Shkreli decided to ride the wave and live up to his casting as a villain.
The Pharma Bro saga, captured in documentary form by filmmaker Brent Hodge a few months ago, got a new development in December 2021 when Shkreli's former company agreed to a $40 million settlement in the multi-state suit brought against it by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which alleged that the business "fleeced patients" by hiking up Daraprim's price by over 4,000 percent. Additionally, the FTC is pursuing Shkreli personally in a civil lawsuit due to his violation of antitrust laws. Shkreli, who has been in prison since 2017 on a separate conviction of cheating investors in two hedge funds, has been reported just this week as continuing to run his criminal empire from behind bars.
This month, the Pharma Bro documentary returned to Hulu.
Who is 'Pharma Bro' Martin Shkreli?
Shkreli, raised in Brooklyn, worked his way up from Wall Street to eventually open his own pharmaceutical companies. In his previous tenure as a hedge fund manager, he co-founded the hedge funds Elea Capital, MSMB Capital Management, and MSMB Healthcare. He then moved on to the pharmaceutical industry. He was the co-founder and former CEO of Retrophin and Turing Pharmaceuticals. He was also the former CEO of start-up software company Gödel Systems in August 2016. Turing would end up being the site where Shkreli would egregiously hike the price per pill from around $11 to more than $400 each overnight.
Testimony before Congress
Following this act, Shkreli faced significant backlash by behaving like a typical 'bro,' smirking, and being condescending along the way. He remained in the news cycle, eventually being dubbed the "most hated man in America." His actions at a House hearing on drug prices led to him being excused by members of Congress who later tweeted were "imbeciles." Shkreli also refused to answer even trivial questions outside the subject of the Daraprim price hike. Following Rep. Elijah Cummings's vocalized his disapproval of Shkreli's behavior, Chairman Jason Chaffetz dismissed Shkreli from the hearing.
He's also known for purchasing a one-of-a-kind Wu-Tang Clan album, Once Upon a Time in Shaolin.
How much did Martin Shkreli buy the Wu-Tang album for?
He paid a whopping $2 million before taking to Twitter to claim that he would release the album if Trump won the 2016 election or burn it if Hillary won. After publicly disrespecting members of the Wu-Tang Clan, he used the album as a coaster before attempting to sell it. The album was among the belongings seized when he was arrested for a security fraud charge unrelated to his Daraprim woes.
Pharma Bro Documentary Review and Where to Watch It
What was the documentary about? If you thought hoping for in-depth commentary about the dark side of the pharma industry, you might be disappointed. Instead, the film, helmed by director Brent Hodge, asks if the former pharmaceutical executive really is as bad as his reputation suggests. Or is he simply a scapegoat for a more significant societal issue. To be honest, the answer to both questions is yes.
You can stream Pharma Bro now on Hulu.
WARNING: *Spoilers Ahead* *Trigger Warning: SA Mention**
The film ends up feeling like a circle of Shkreli supporters attempting to humanize the man they equate to a comic book villain. The director goes to some extreme lengths, bordering on stalking, bent on showing that Shkreli isn't simply a monster. He starts to follow Shkreli around town, show up at his former companies, and watch hours of his live stream to "get closer" to him. However, he never really directly interacts with Shkreli, beyond a phone call where he was cursed out immediately. Undeterred, he proceeds to move into the same building, going as far as showing up to his apartment with some beers. Despite all of that work, he does very little to address Shkreli's crimes. Instead, to prove that there is more to Shkreli's character Hodge relies on a chorus of yes-men, who all seem to believe that he is being misjudged.
The Cast of Pharma Bro- A Chorus of "Yes-Bros"
The commentators are not particularly convincing. Hodge starts by interviewing a psychology professor who compares Shkreli to comic-book characters, with deep backstories that explain their behavior. He also speaks with a couple of women who dated him, including Christie Smythe, who left her journalistic career and husband behind after falling in love with Shkreli. The far-right troll Milo Yiannopoulos also headlined a conservative meet and greet with Shkreli and commented on his status as a conservative celebrity. Another memorable character is donut-chain, wearing Billy the Fridge, a "rapper" and close friend of Shkreli. While acknowledging that Shkreli actively chose to embody the villain's caricature, he also wants people to recognize that Shkreli sometimes does everyday human things. That's right; in between scenes of him criticizing people for being poor, there are indeed scenes of him playing his guitar and sleeping. In terms of the people directly affected by his actions, one Daraprim patient is featured. He explains how the price hike interfered with his ability to get medication — until Shkreli personally gave him a supply—an experience the patient acknowledges was an anomaly.
The film mainly focuses on his personal interests, including holding court on his live stream for hours, being a Black culture groupie, and going out his way to attack female journalists who offend him. Some of Shkreli's more egregious acts include shouting at a black woman that he owns black culture, buying the domain names of female reporters he doesn't like, and turning his Twitter page into an obsessive monument of sexual harassment aimed at Teen Vogue writer Lauren Duca. Duca, who is known for writing a scathing op-ed about Trump, responded to Shkreli's public attempts at courting her by saying she'd rather eat her own organs. He would eventually be banned from the platform after photoshopping his pictures on her husband's face and threatening to rape her.
The cast of "Pharma Bro" mostly seemed preoccupied with gaslighting the audience on Shkreli's behalf. Many of them claim that "nobody" cared about possible fraud or price hiking before he became the face of it. Somehow they want us to believe that he wasn't the real issue, just a symptom of it. And somehow, that should absolve him from being prosecuted for the crimes they don't deny he committed. They want the viewers to believe that authorities pursued those charges more aggressively because of Shkreli's notoriety. That Shkreli was running companies at such a young age that he had no one to point out wrongdoing. Hodge is ambivalent about whether or not he is on Shkreli's side. Still, he appears convinced that he painted a well-rounded portrait of Shkreli when it actually seemed to exemplify why he deserves the disdain the public has for him.
Criminal prosecution and conviction
What Exactly Did Martin Shkreli Do?
Overall the film left viewers with more questions than answers about the nature of Shkreli's crime. Questions like 'why did the price of Daraprim go up?' or 'what did pharma bro do? 'were glossed over in the film. In fact, the initial incident that made him infamous is not what he is currently serving time for.
Back in 2015, the pharma CEO decided to raise the price of Daraprim. This drug treats people with HIV/AIDS and other illnesses, from $13.50 to an astonishing $750 per tablet. This practice of taking obscure medications to monopolize their production and then hike up the prices is a practice that is allowed due to loopholes in laws about pharmaceutical production. After being called out by politicians, including Hillary Clinton and members of Congress, Shkreli embraced the villain role he was handed by the media. In an interview with CBS News, Shkreli defended the price hike, saying, "There's no doubt, I'm a capitalist. I'm trying to create a big drug company, a successful drug company, a profitable drug company."
However, none of that is why he ultimately faced up to twenty years in prison in 2017. Shkreli was accused of operating a Ponzi scheme that involved misleading investors at the financial firms MSMB Capital and MSMB Healthcare and using money from his pharmaceutical firm Retrophin to pay off investors and cover other debts. In 2017, Shkreli was found guilty of two counts of securities fraud and one count of conspiracy.
Where is Shkreli Now?
So, what happened to the so-called pharma bro? Where is the pharma bro now?
Well, he's in prison. And he's been there since his trial in 2017, serving a seven-year sentence for security fraud, though he was supposed to face up to twenty years. He has failed to get the court to approve any request for a retrial, even when he asked for early release to help cure covid-19. Shkreli is currently at the low-security Federal prison in Allenwood, Pennsylvania, with an expected release date late next year.
What happened to Turing Pharmaceuticals?
Is Turing Pharmaceuticals still in business? Does Martin Shkreli still own the company?
After Shkreli was imprisoned, Turing changed its name to Vyera in 2017. Why did Turing Pharmaceuticals change its name? It was an attempt to avoid negative publicity and distance itself from the disgraced CEO. Presently it is named Phoenixus.
In March 2019, The Wall Street Journal reported that Shkreli was still running the company behind bars, despite the name change. Using a contraband cellphone from his prison ward, Shkreli effectively directed the renamed firm. He supposedly went as far as terminating the executive he appointed, Kevin P. Mulleady, from jail. After this news broke, Shkreli was moved from a prison ward in Fort Dix, NJ, to the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn before a subsequent move to a federal prison in Pennsylvania.
In January 2020, the FTC filed a case against Vyera "alleging an elaborate anticompetitive scheme to preserve a monopoly for the life-saving drug, Daraprim." Vyera, then still known as Turing Pharmaceuticals, protected its monopoly on Daraprim by ensuring that generic drugmakers could not obtain samples for cheaper versions while keeping potential rivals from buying a key ingredient.
A settlement was reached in December 2021. According to AP News, the settlement "requires Vyera and Phoenixus to provide up to $40 million in relief over ten years to consumers who allegedly were fleeced by their actions and requires them to make Daraprim available to any potential generic competitor at the cost of producing the drug." Shkreli's codefendant Kevin Mulleady "agreed to a seven-year ban on working for or holding more than an 8% share in most pharmaceutical companies."
Where can I Watch the Pharma Bro Documentary?
Places to Stream Pharma Bro
Pharma Bro was initially released on October 5, 2021.
Pharma Bro is available to buy or rent on Vudu, Google Play, iTunes, and Amazon Prime.
It was recently released on HULU, where you can stream it with your subscription.