Pharma – Who?

Martin Shkreli, that’s who.

In response to Mona’s article from last week, I want to continue the trend of ethics in the pharmaceutical industry. Decisions in the pharma industry often edge on the side of ethical dilemma because drugs have the possibility of either helping or harming people. And Mona was spot on, some big pharma companies have done some pretty sketchy stuff in the past. They gave tons of crazy drugs to little kids, and even gave some to the parents too so that they wouldn’t object to testing on the kids. OK so that’s not exactly what happened, but I’m sure the media spun in into something like that. It’s so easy for the media to go crazy with pharmaceuticals because the general public is highly uneducated about how our drug system actually works. And the media has definitely had fun with creating headlines for Martin Shkreli.

If you don’t know about Martin Shkreli, please watch this Vice doc where he drinks wine and plays chess with a Vice reporter, all the while telling her how terrible she is at chess. Shkreli is best known for the price gouging scandal that he’s currently wrapped up in. His company bought the best drug for treating patients with AIDS and then hiked the price up 5,000% to $750 a pill. Rough times for everyone trying to gain access to the pill right? Sort of. Most people would look at this and immediately say that Shkreli is immoral, that he might as well be poisoning small children because he’s killing people that have AIDS. In reality, as Shkreli will readily explain to you if you ever get the chance to interview him, nothing that he is doing is actually having an impact on the bigger system or on the lives of people with AIDS. The reason is because the burden of that 5,000% increase in price falls on big corporations and insurance companies who have to foot the bill. He also says that he will personally give the drug away for free to anyone who desperately needs it. Seems pretty ethical, yeah?

The point is that, and Mona makes this point very well, the pharma industry, just like many other big industries, is not simple when it comes to executing totally ethical behavior. My view is that I want to see medicine advance to the point where we can cure all of the most deadly diseases that we currently have. If that means a little sketchy testing, then that’s ok with me. But I’m not one of the guinea pigs am I? Ok cool, yeah go ahead.


9 thoughts on “Pharma – Who?

  1. Martin Shkreli, you cant help but laugh at this guy. If you havent seen the video of his refusal to answer questions concerning allegation of securities fraud in front of the Congressional Oversight Committee, I would recommend doing so.

    Hes portrayed by the media as one of the most evil men in America, raising prices for thousands of people who desperately need medication. Yet, he attests that he has done nothing illegal and nothing that other drug companies have never done before. It may be unethical, but Shkreli wasnt legally prevented from doing what he did. I think Skhreli provides a microcosm which is evidence to the greater issues that rest in the big pharma industry. Where is the tradeoff between profit and helping other get their medication? Between investing less in cancer research and more in executives salaries?

    Its hard to deny that Shkreli is a pretty smart guy. Hes the former CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, which from my understanding continues to be a fairly innovative company. Its also hard to deny he may be a bit cynical….he spends much of his time live broadcasting his live of a Twitter feed. This relates to the Al Danlap, CEO-sociopath connection raised last class


  2. Hm, interesting. I suppose, from a shareholder value standpoint, that Shkreli was only generating profits for his shareholders. However, is big pharma an organization that exists to make profits or to increase the level of well-being for society? From a “virtue ethics” standpoint, I abhor the guy’s attitude, I believe that if he HAD to increase the price for the drugs, then it could’ve been handled with more clarity as to “why” it was a needed alteration.


  3. I agree that the pharma industry is very complex with a lot of different inputs going into making an ethical or non-ethical behavior, and that it’s almost impossible for us to know exactly what is going through their heads when making choices on these topics. But in my thinking, when the price is increased 5000% and the burden falls on the big corporations and insurance companies, this does still put stress on those seeking the pill as the costs put on to them by those corporations and insurance companies will also increase in some capacity. Any time the price of something so important skyrockets like it did here, it can be hard to say what will happen in the short-term or long-term.


    1. I completely agree with you, Doug. Being a CEO of any pharmaceutical company is extremely difficult in that making any decision can either make you look like an angel or a devil in the eyes of the public. In many cases, these CEOs are required to choose between the wellbeing of the people or that of his/her company. That being said, I don’t think anything Shkreli says (no matter how much wine consumed or games of chess played) will get me to believe that “nothing he is doing is actually having an impact on the bigger system or on the lives of people with AIDS.” Even though at first, the burden of this 5000% price increase only falls on big corporations, there is no way they will be able to sell it to those who need it at a reasonable price as they need to profit from it in some way as well.

      Oh, and on top of all this, it pains me (almost as much as this pharma issue) that the Wu Tang CD (of which there is only one copy in the world) he purchased for $2 million is just rotting away in his Brooklyn apartment through all of this, currently unheard by anyone in the world and will probably be unheard for the rest of our lives. After withholding medication… and Wu Tang… from the people who desperately need it, it’s clear the world would be alot better off without him in it.


  4. The pharmaceutical industry is difficult to value for many reasons. The biggest problem being the over reliance on contingent FDA approval of drugs. Pharmaceutical companies spend millions/billions developing drugs with an extremely low chance of being approved by the government. In many cases, a pharmaceutical company will go bankrupt developing a single viable medication. In other words, it’s extremely hard for drug companies to develop drugs. I think it’s easy to lose sight of the risks these companies take by focusing solely on the actions of companies after they’ve achieved FDA approval. So, is it wrong for these companies to be rewarded when they finally are able to deliver a successful product to market? After all, the development and sale of pharmaceuticals is a business and they need to take advantage of winning products. In the end, do I think Shkreli is justified in hiking the price 5,000%, no. But I can see why he feels his company has a right to enhanced profits.


  5. This guy is a total jerk and there’s no hiding it. The smug look he had on his face during the trial was infuriating to look at. Of course, a person should be able to price something where they want to at their own risk, but in the case of a life saving drug it becomes unethical because the business then begins to choose who lives and who dies, which crosses over into some pretty dark ethical territory.


  6. I have always been fascinated by the pharmaceutical industry in the United States. It is usually viewed as a highly corrupt industry, but sometimes as a life saving drug company. One very different pharmaceutical industry is the one in India. All drugs are extremely cheap and the protection of patents is minimal. This allows many more people to obtain drugs that can save their lives. The one negative side is that people will take drugs that they don’t really need. This results in a resistance in the future to the drug that could save their lives. This could be the market in the United States in the future. I believe that their needs to be some type of control of the industry while giving the companies financial incentive to research new drugs.


  7. The cost shifting from the patient to the insurance plan is a lame answer. Insurance is privatized socialism- it spreads risk. If every pharma company found the highest point of pricing discrimination, it would bankrupt a health system that already spends about twice as much as any other country for WORSE outcomes.

    Big pharma spends twice as much on marketing as R&D. That is not the picture of an industry utterly devoted to healthcare.


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