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NY,Feds Sue 'Pharma Bro' in Drug Scheme01/28 07:03

   NEW YORK (AP) -- State and federal authorities sued imprisoned entrepreneur 
Martin Shkreli on Monday over tactics that shielded a profitable drug from 
competition after a price hike made the so-called "Pharma Bro" infamous.

   Shkreli was scorned as the bad-boy face of pharmaceuticals profiteering 
after he engineered a roughly 4,000% increase in the price of a decades-old 
medication for a sometimes life-threatening parasitic infection.

   Monday's lawsuit, filed by the New York attorney general's office and the 
Federal Trade Commission, centers on subsequent actions by Shkreli and his 
former company.

   They "held this critical drug hostage from patients and competitors as they 
illegally sought to maintain their monopoly," Attorney General Letitia James 
said in a statement. 

   At least four potential competitors have so far been kept from making 
cheaper generic versions of the medication, the suit says. 

   Lawyer Benjamin Brafman said Shkreli "looks forward to defeating this 
baseless and unprecedented attempt by the FTC to sue an individual for 
monopolizing a market."

   Shkreli, 36, is serving a seven-year prison sentence for a securities-fraud 
conviction related to hedge funds he ran before getting into the 
pharmaceuticals industry. 

   Shkreli was CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals -- later called Vyera 
Pharmaceuticals LLC and Phoenixus AG -- in 2015, when it acquired the rights to 
a drug called Daraprim. It is used to treat toxoplasmosis, an infection that 
can be deadly for people with HIV or other immune-system problems and can cause 
serious problems for children born to women infected while pregnant. 
Hospitalized patients typically take the drug daily for several weeks, and 
sometimes for months or even years, according to the lawsuit.

   The company boosted the cost from less than $20 to $750 per pill.

   "Should be a very handsome investment for all of us," Shkreli put it in an 
email to a contact at the time.

   The increase left some patients facing co-pays as high as $16,000 and 
sparked an outcry that fueled congressional hearings.

   Then the company "kept the price of Daraprim astronomically high by 
illegally boxing out the competition," FTC official Gail Levine said in a 
statement Monday.

   The drug's patent protection had expired, but the company used what's known 
as a "closed distribution system" to restrict who could buy it -- meaning that 
companies interested in making a generic version of Daraprim couldn't get 
enough pills to do required testing, according to the lawsuit. Many passages 
are redacted; the AG's office explained that its investigation may have 
involved competitive corporate information.

   The drug had previously been available from various wholesalers and 
distributors, but it was moved to closed distribution a few months before 
Turing bought the rights to it.

   The lawsuit also accuses the company of maneuvering to cut off potential 
rivals' access to suppliers of a key ingredient for the medication and to data 
they would want to evaluate the drug's market potential.

   The "elaborate scheme to prevent generic competition" has likely cost 
consumers and other drug buyers tens of millions of dollars, the suit says.

   To date, there is no generic version of Daraprim on the U.S. market.

   The suit also names the company's current chairman, Kevin Mulleady. Messages 
were left at a possible phone number for him and sent to an email address 
possibly associated with him.

   The suit seeks unspecified financial relief and penalties, plus an order 
barring Shkreli and Mulleady from ever owning or working for any pharmaceutical 
company.

   "We won't allow 'Pharma Bros' to manipulate the market and line their 
pockets at the expense of vulnerable patients and the health care system," said 
James, a Democrat.

   Shkreli raised eyebrows with his behavior both in business and elsewhere. He 
bought a one-of-a-kind, unreleased Wu-Tang Clan album for $2 million, called 
members of Congress "imbeciles," taunted prosecutors in the securities-fraud 
case against him, got kicked off of Twitter for harassing a female journalist 
and spent countless hours livestreaming himself from his apartment.

   While awaiting sentencing on his 2017 conviction, he offered his online 
followers a $5,000 bounty for a lock of former Democratic presidential nominee 
and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's hair. His lawyers said it was a joke, 
but a judge revoked Shkreli's bail  and jailed him.

   At his 2018 sentencing, Shkreli choked up, admitted making many mistakes and 
said he'd evolved.

   "There is no conspiracy to take down Martin Shkreli," he said. "I took down 
Martin Shkreli."


(KR)

 
 
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