First impressions are important, and if you’d never heard of Martin Shkreli before your first impression of him would really depend on who you talked to. To some he’s the embodiment of the American dream, the son of Albanian and Croatian immigrants who brought him up in the modest surroundings of a small Brooklyn apartment before he went on to become wealthy, influential and successful. To others Martin Shkreli is a modern day Satan, an uber-capitalist who has made his wealth through dubious and immoral actions that have impacted negatively on those in need of vital life saving drugs.
There are a few characteristics of Martin Shkreli that everyone agrees on, he possesses a razor-sharp intelligence, he’s unconcerned how his critics view him, and most notably of all he’s someone who loves to court controversy. But how did Martin Shkreli become such a reviled figure to some and a much-admired genius to others? Read on to find out.
Martin Shkreli’s Early Life and Career
Martin was born on April 1st 1983, his father worked as a doorman and both parents also had janitorial jobs. He went to Hunter College High School in New York City, a public school for kids that were intellectually gifted. He encountered no problems at school and his attendance was good but he left before his final year after becoming bored.
In 2000 just before he turned seventeen, Martin, in his own words ‘weaseled’ his way into an intern-ship with the hedge fund company Cramer, Berkowitz & Co, which was originally founded by the host of CNBC’s ‘Mad Money’ Jim Cramer, although Cramer had already left by the time Martin Shkreli started working there. He began working in the mail-room but within a short space of time became known for his ability to assess the likely success of biotech firms. He promoted the idea of short-selling a particular biotech stock, correctly guessing that the share value would drop and Cramer, Berkowitz & Co benefited from his insight. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) became suspicious and investigated Martin’s well-timed bet but ultimately ruled that Martin had done nothing wrong.
In 2004 Martin gained a bachelor’s degree in business administration from New York’s Baruch College and left Cramer, Berkowitz & Co, and began working for UBS and Intrepid Capital Management in an analyst role. In 2006 he started his first company, another Hedge Fund management business named Elea Capital Management. The following year Elea was sued by Lehman brothers after the company could not cover the losses of a put option that Shkreli had failed to predict correctly. The investment giant won the case in 2007, being awarded over $2 million against Shkreli and Elea Capital Management, but Martin got lucky due to Lehman Brothers own financial crisis – as Lehman were unable to receive the award before they themselves collapsed into bankruptcy.
Martin Shkreli and MSMB Capital Management
In 2009 Martin founded another hedge fund, called MSMB Capital Management along with longtime friend Marek Biestek. The pair soon attracted controversy by short selling stocks in biotech companies and then using social media and stock trader chat rooms to spread negative impressions of those companies. It wasn’t illegal, but many considered it immoral at least.
In 2011 MSMB took a gamble on a drug called Contrave after it was not approved by the Food & Drug Administration, but the stock price made a surprising recovery and MSMB Capital Management ended up owing Merrill Lynch $7 million. Other trading losses in excess of $1 million left MSMB with assets of less than $60,000 and the company was finished, however a few months earlier in 2011 Martin Shkreli had founded MSMB Healthcare and Retrophin which had been touted as a pharmaceutical company and part of the MSMB group.The SEC complained that the company had only been formed to protect Martin so that he could continue trading after MSMB went under. He was CEO of Retrophin until September 2014, during which time company employees operated several Twitter accounts promoting a negative opinion of biotech stocks that the business wished to short-sell, as well as to make jokes about gangster rap. Martin’s critics admitted his obvious intelligence, but also criticized his unfocused and immature attitude. After the board ousted him from the company in September 2014 he resigned, Tweeting that the directors were ‘insane’.
After a business career that seemed ethically dubious to most and morally repugnant to many, Martin stepped up his profile in 2015 and before the year was over he had gained the hatred of millions Worldwide who saw him as the very worst example of over-zealous capitalism and acquisition of wealth at any cost. In February of that year he started another company, Turing Pharmaceuticals, which he intended to use to buy licenses for drugs that had expired patents, which he could then inflate the price of. As developing alternatives to such drugs was prohibitively expensive the strategy was to benefit from the exclusive distribution of drugs that had no competition.
Turing Pharmaceuticals and Daraprim Price Rise
In August 2015 Turing Pharmaceuticals acquired exclusive distribution rights to Daraprim for $55 million. The drug, intended as an anti-malarial treatment originally was widely used to treat toxoplasmosis, and was particularly useful to patients suffering from AIDS. Turing Pharmaceuticals greatly restricted the distribution of the drug immediately upon gaining the rights to it.
The same month Martin’s former company Retrophin announced they planned to sue him for $65 million due to his misuse of company funds during his time as CEO there. He was accused of harassing a former MSMB employee and his family, committing stock-trading irregularities and violations of SEC rules.
In September the cost of Daraprim increased by a factor of 56, it had been $13.50 for a single pill, but Martin increased it to $750. Criticism of Turing Pharmaceuticals and Martin Shkreli was swift and unanimous and came from a wide variety of sources, among them the IDSA, AIDS organizations and Pharmaceutical Research groups. There can be no doubt that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump agree on very little, but they were united in their dislike of Martin Shkreli and the price increase of Daraprim. They were joined in their condemnation by Bernie Sanders, who subsequently received a campaign donation of $2,700 from Martin. Bernie refused the donation and sent the money on to an AIDS clinic, after which Martin immediately took to Twitter to mock Sanders and his attitude, characteristically uncaring of the immense backlash of criticism he was facing.
Martin became an infamous public figure, the popular news site The Daily Beast named him ‘The Most Hated man in America’ and he attempted some damage control. He hired lobbyists with knowledge of drug pricing and health care laws to explain the validity of the price rise, and a public relations firm in order to help him defend the decision to raise the price of Daraprim. Turing Pharmaceuticals then issued a press release announcing that the price would be lowered, although they didn’t reveal by how much, not that it mattered, by November 2015 the decision was reversed and Turing announced the price would remain at $750 per pill.
Martin Shkreli has attempted to improve his public image and justify his decision to increase the price of Daraprim since the controversy over the price rise, explaining that he intended to offer discounts up to half price to hospitals for bulk orders, and further claiming that insurance companies rather than patients would cover most of the increase. Turin Pharmaceuticals have also promised that no patient in need of the drug would be refused it, however infectious disease experts and AIDS treatment organizations have criticised these placatory measures as insufficient and blatantly dishonest.
In October 2015 Imprimis Pharmaceuticals announced that they would provide an alternative to Daraprim that contained Pyrimethaminem, the active ingredient in the treatment for the equivalent of $1 per dose, effectively undercutting the inflated price of Daraprim and ending Turing Pharmaceuticals stranglehold on the treatment. Imprimis CEO Mark Baum commented at the time that the situation of a sole supply generic drug being suddenly increased in price was not a new one. Imprimis now offer their orally taken compound containing Pyrimethaminem for $99 for a 100 dose bottle.
In November 2015 Martin, a keen League of Legends player, began live-streaming on Youtube. His lengthy streams, which often lasted for several hours showed him playing games, chatting with viewers and sometimes muting the stream for extended periods while he took telephone calls. He also began tutorial style streams where he would discuss the basic principles of finance and chemistry. Although he inevitably attracted a considerable amount of negative viewers that he would usually mute without comment, he also appeared to be supported by a small but growing number of viewers who appreciated his interactive streams, sense of humanity, and his success in business.
In December 2015 Martin Shkreli’s dubious business practices finally caught up with him, the FBI arrested him after he was federally indicted in the US District Court of Eastern New York, as a result of an investigation of his activities at MSMB Capital Management and Retrophin. He was charged with securities fraud and the FBI suggested he was operating a ponzi scheme, although Martin denied the accusations, claiming they were the result of the price rise of Daraprim, and due to his ‘flamboyant personality’. He was released on a $5 million bail bond.
What’s Martin Shkreli Doing Now in 2018 – Recent Updates
Now in 2018 Martin Shkreli’s legal case is yet to come to court, in February 2016 he was subpoenaed and forced to appear in front of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reforms to field questions regarding the price rise of Daraprim. He attempted to legally challenge the subpoena but was unsuccessful. During his appearance at Congress he invoked the fifth amendment and did not answer any of the committees questions other than confirming his name again much to the admiration of some and disgust of others. Later that day he made a Tweet referring to congressmen as ‘Imbeciles’ and later claimed that his appearance had been caused by the ‘Self-interest’ of Congress members.
Martin Shkreli has also become known for buying the sole copy of the album ‘Once Upon a Time in Shaolin’, by the Wu-Tang Clan. He purchased it for $2 Million in November 2015. In October 2016 Martin announced that he would destroy the album if Hillary Clinton won the election, and release it for free if Donald Trump won. Martin had previously taunted many fans of Wu-Tang Clan, claiming that he would destroy the exclusive work of art, but to his credit he did keep his promise after the election. On November 9th 2016, the day after Donald Trump had won the vote he live-streamed the intro as well as the first track of the album online.
Martin is without a doubt highly intelligent, but also extremely controversial. His complex character is at times reserved and polite, but at others immature with large amounts of “trolling”. In January 2017 he returned to Twitter to harass journalist Lauren Duca, who writes for a variety of well-known publications. The unwanted attention from Martin had begun when he asked the married journalist if she would accompany him to the inauguration of President-elect Trump, she responded that she would rather eat her own organs, but Martin Shkreli is not the sort to take no for an answer. He soon began repeatedly tweeting her, stating that he had a ‘crush’ on her, and doctoring images of Duca and her husband, with his face superimposed on top on her husbands. Martins band of troll-like supporters soon joined in and eventually Lauren complained, resulting in a temporary suspension for Martin’s Twitter account.
Martin Shkreli continues to stream and upload videos to Youtube on a regular basis where he speaks about a variety of subjects, including his recent twitter activities and his love of music and gaming. Despite his controversial past and apparent love of conflict, his videos concerning finance and business are considered to be interesting, informative and educational, even by some of his biggest critics. All in all Martin is a complex individual who seems to be building a rapidly growing and organic following despite not being in the public eye like he was once was as the media’s “most hated man in America.”