Following the announcement of a 5,500% price increase for Daraprim, a drug that treats a parasitic infection called toxoplasmosis, Martin Shkreli is fast becoming a household name – and the most hated man on the internet. A former hedge-fund manager, the 32-year-old has been vilified on social media and branded a "price-gouging CEO", "scumbag", "evil incarnate" and "everything that is wrong with capitalism". And those are the less vitriolic comments.
In August, Shkreli's company, Turin Pharmaceuticals, purchased the 62-year-old Daraprim for $55m. The drug is important for people with compromised immune systems, including Aids patients. Shkreli and his company faced strong backlash from the public, politicians and musicians who he bankrolls when it raised the price of each pill from $13.50 (£8.80) to $750 (£490) overnight. The company defended its pricing, saying that it was a necessary move in order to fund research and develop new drugs.
"If there was a company that was selling an Aston Martin at the price of a bicycle, and we buy that company and we ask to charge Toyota prices, I don't think that that should be a crime," Shkreli argued unapologetically. His staunch and arrogant defence of the exploitative pricing strategy to achieve a drug that will ultimately benefit humankind has incurred the wrath of many, including Hillary Clinton, who condemned the "price gouging" and said that drug price reforms will be a key part of her presidential campaign.
The crescendo of criticism reached breaking point this week and on Tuesday (22 September), Shkreli agreed to lower the price of Daraprim to an "affordable level" despite previously insisting that he would not bow to public pressure. Speaking to ABC News, he said: "We've agreed to lower the price of Daraprim to a point that is more affordable and is able to allow the company to make a profit, but a very small profit, and we think these changes will be welcome." Shkreli did not specify the new price.
Work history mired in controversy
Amid the furore, details of Shkreli's work history has come to the fore – and it has certainly not been shy of controversy. After receiving a business degree from New York's Baruch College in 2004, the Brooklynite undertook an internship at Cramer Berkowitz & Co hedge fund before starting his own one, Elea Capital Management, in 2006. It closed a year later following a $2.3m lawsuit from Lehman Brothers and Shkreli would go on to start MSMB Capital Management in 2008.
Fast forward to 2011 when Shkreli started his own biotech company, Retrophin, which focused on therapies for rare diseases. In one instance, Retrophin increased the price of kidney drug Thiola by 2,000%. In 2014, Shkreli was forced out of Retrophin after being accused of improperly passing off legal settlements. In August 2015, Retrophin filed a $65m federal lawsuit against Shkreli in New York alleging that he had created the biotech firm and took it public solely to pay off investors in MSMB when it went under.
According to the suit, Shkreli prompted MSMB to make a "disastrous trade" with Merrill Lynch. The claim says: "MSMB Capital lost over $7 million, and was left virtually bankrupt. Shkreli did not tell his MSMB Capital investors that he had lost all their money as a result of the Orex Trade." Shkreli has been labelled as the "paradigm faithless servant" by company lawyers, but the unabashed New Yorker has slammed the case as "baseless and meritless".
After being ousted from Retrophin, Shkreli launched Turing Pharmaceuticals in February 2015. The company currently has two products on the market: Daraprim and Vecamyl (used to treat hypertension).
According to court documents, Shkreli had previously engaged in an alleged campaign of "harassment" against a former employee, Timothy Pierotti and his family. He accused Pierotti of defrauding Retrophin and contacted his wife and teenage son directly.
"Your husband had stolen $1.6 million from me and I will get it back. I will go to any length necessary to get it back," he wrote to Pierotti's wife, Kristen, in a 2013 letter, according to court documents.
"Your pathetic excuse of a husband needs to get a real job that does not depend on fraud to succeed...I hope to see you and your four children homeless and will do whatever I can to assure this," Shkreli allegedly wrote.
Pierotti also claimed that Shkreli tried to add his brother and children on Facebook and sent a message to his teenage son in which he accused his father of betraying and stealing millions from him. A lawsuit was settled out of court and sealed by a non-disclosure agreement.
Music industry backlash
Shkreli's history stretches far and wide, it seems, even pervading the musical world. In light of his actions that have left millions disgusted, it has emerged that Shkreli is the deep-pocketed investor behind Collect Records, the label founded by iconic Thursday frontman, Geoff Rickly.
Rickly and bands under the Collect banner have publicly stated their revulsion at Shkreli's extortionate price-hike for Daraprim. "My head is still spinning, and though I want to believe that there is some reason that he would do this that is some remotely positive way, the only thing I can see is that it is totally and completely heartbreaking," Rickly told Noisey. "I can't see my future at all in the label," he added.
Other bands under the Collect label have also made public their disdain for Shkreli's actions. "I personally 100% am NOT F*****G OK with this guy and his business tactics," Hether Fortune of Wax Idols, a Collect band posted on the group's Facebook page. "If any of you have learned anything about me through being a fan of the band, I hope that you would know by now that this kind of advantageous rich guy greed goes against everything that I stand for."
She clarified that Shkreli essentially "donates money to the label" and that by "supporting Wax Idols and buying our record, you are NOT contributing to this as*****'s bank account".
This is why Martin Shkreli is the most hated man on the internet right now.