Martin Shkreli: Smug Face of Wanton Greed

DaraprimTo label Martin Shkreli a douche-bag would be an affront – to douche-bags. Shkreli is the supposed wunderkind who founded the drug company Turing Pharmaceuticals earlier this year with a business model for buying up rights to older, specialty medicines and jacking up the prices. Instead of focusing on developing new drugs to tackle challenging health issues, Shkreli would rather behave like a lowlife patent troll, acquiring rights to mature, narrow-use, obscure pharmaceuticals and exploiting the tiny population of sufferers who depend on the drugs.

Despite what their website claims (“We are dedicated to helping patients, who often have no effective treatment options, by developing and commercializing innovative treatments”), Turing is on the hunt to scoop up niche drugs and exploit the sick and dying who depend on them. It’s more about “commercializing” than “developing.” (Sidebar: I wonder if mathematician Alan Turing is flipping in his grave for having his name attached to a near-criminal enterprise?)

In one outrageous move, after paying for the rights to Daraprim (a drug for treating toxoplasmosis that’s been on the market since 1953) Shkreli increased the price to $750 per pill from $13.50 – because he can. The number of people dependent on Daraprim is so small that no other company has ever come forward to develop a generic. Shkreli claims he raised the price to generate revenue with which to fund new research, essentially extorting R&D from a small portion of the population unlucky enough to suffer from a rare disease.

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The smug face of wanton greed (and sufferer of the hideous disease of the soul, shkrelitis)

Justifiably, Shkreli took hits from a multitude of patient advocates, politicians and pharma execs. After mumbling a bit about dialing back a bit on the avarice, Shkreli came back more defiant than ever, musing that he should have raised the price even more. Claiming it’s his duty to maximize the flow of money into the pockets of shareholders, Shkreli gave the world a lesson in economics: “No one wants to say it, no one’s proud of it, but this is a capitalist society, capitalist system and capitalist rules.” This, of course, is bullshit. $750 per pill is way more than the market can bear, and therefore the only way for Turing to sell the inflated product is for taxpayer-funded (socialist) programs like Medicaid and Medicare to step in and subsidize the sale.

If, god forbid, Martin Shkreli is ever hit by a bus, I sincerely hope the capitalistic ambulance company charges him a million dollars to drive him to the hospital – in advance.

What the L?

Almost 50 years ago, the Green Bay Packers of the NFL vanquished the Kansas City Chiefs of the less-prestigious AFL in what became known as the Super Bowl. In 1971, the NFL chose to mark the fifth championship event with a Roman numeral V – placing the biggest football game of the year in the same exclusive club as cornerstones, movie copyrights, and Cartier watches. I remember learning in grade school how to render Arabic numerals into Romans and vice versa, but doing even simple arithmetic with the clunky assembly of I’s, V’s, X’s, L’s, C’s, D’s and M’s was nigh impossible, hence their isolation for use as a pompous stand-in for numbers the whole world has come to embrace.

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I wonder if children today still have to learn Roman numerals. I suspect not, because after 49 Super Bowls adorned with such lofty appellations as XIV, XXVII, and XLIV, the NFL is ditching the Roman numeral fad this year and going back to Arabic. They must know that the bulk of today’s football fans would scratch their collective heads in confusion at advertisements for a Super Bowl L. Furthermore, appending just a single character seems to diminish the whole affair – it’s certainly not a powerful way to celebrate the golden anniversary of that first match-up in 1966. I suppose the NFL could have bent the rules and called it Super Bowl XXXXX – but then they might have infringed the copyright of a porno flick.

So for now, get ready for near-nonstop promotion of Super Bowl 50 and enjoy the clarity until 2017 when the NFL returns with Super Bowl LI (still weird, though).

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