‘It's Not Funny, Mr. Shkreli': Pharma ‘Bad Boy' Excused From Hearing After Grinning Before Congress

"I intend to follow the advice of my counsel, not yours," Shkreli tells congressman.

Former pharmaceutical chief Martin Shkreli refused to testify Thursday in an appearance before U.S. lawmakers who excoriated him over severe hikes for a drug sold by a company that he acquired.

Shkreli, widely scorned for boosting the price of a long-established and potentially lifesaving drug by more than 5,000 percent, exercised his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination when he went before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

"I intend to follow the advice of my counsel, not yours," Shkreli told Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), who urged the pharma "bad boy" to answer questions from the panel.

The lawmakers summoned him to answer for the decision that made him infamous: raising the price for Daraprim, the only approved drug for a rare and sometimes deadly parasitic infection. The 32-year-old Shkreli faces separate criminal charges of securities fraud in connection with another drug company he owned.

Members of Congress launched into fiery lectures directed at Shkreli, and Rep. Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the panel, called the profits earned from Daraprim "blood money." 

"Drug company executives are lining their pockets at the expense of some of the most vulnerable families in our nation," U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Maryland, said. "It's not funny, Mr. Shkreli. People are dying and they're getting sicker and sicker."

The committee's chairman, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), asked Shkreli to excuse himself from the panel after he invoked the Fifth Amendment to all questions from the committee members and responded to comments from Rep. Cummings with "smart aleck" facial expressions. [[367668701, C]]

"His lawyer better advise him better because a jury would love to convict someone like him if he was on trial," Congressman John Duncan said after Shkreli left the room.

Though he remained tight-lipped during the hearing, Shkreli took to Twitter after leaving Capitol Hill and mocked members of Congress: "Hard to accept that these imbeciles represent the people in our government," he wrote. 

Shkreli also responded to criticism over his facial expressions, claiming he "had prior counsel produce a memo on facial expressions during congressional testimony if anyone wants to see it."

"Interesting precedence," he tweeted. [[367668511, C]]

The brash entrepreneur and former hedge fund manager, who pleaded not guilty after his arrest in December in New York, has been out on $5 million bail. He walked into the packed hearing room well before the session began and met the crush of cameras. Even a few members of the House panel were swept up in the curiosity and snapped Shkreli's photo on their cellphones. He wore a sport jacket and button-down shirt, conservatively preppie attire that contrasted with the hoodie he had on when he was arrested.

Also appearing before the lawmakers was Turing's chief commercial officer and the interim CEO of Canada's largest drugmaker, Valeant Pharmaceuticals. Documents from Valeant and Turing show they have made a practice of buying and then dramatically raising prices for, low-cost drugs given to patients with life-threatening conditions including heart disease, AIDS and cancer, according to excerpts released this week by the House panel.

The two companies' executives are stressing their commitment to ensuring that cost isn't a deterrent for patients who need the drugs.

Turing has taken new steps to ensure affordable access to Daraprim "for every single patient who needs the drug, regardless of ability to pay," Retzlaff said.

"To our knowledge, no patient needs to pay $750 per pill for Daraprim," she said. About two-thirds of patients get it through government programs that benefit from a discounted price of a penny a pill, Retzlaff told the panel.

Valeant has "heard very clearly" public concern over drug prices and is responding, Schiller said in his testimony. He noted the company has created a price rebate program that discounts Nitropress and Isuprel up to 30 percent in deals with big hospital purchasing groups. The two drugs most often are used by hospitals and other healthcare providers as part of procedures subject to their own price caps, Schiller testified.

The documents show how executives at both companies planned to maximize profits while fending off negative publicity over the price hikes. [[238427591, C]]

Presentations by Turing executives, part of the trove of documents, show that as early as last May, the company planned to turn Daraprim into a $200-million-a-year drug by dramatically increasing its price. Turing bought the 60-year-old drug from Impax Laboratories in August for $55 million and swiftly raised its price.

Shkreli said in an email to one contact: "We raised the price from $1,700 per bottle to $75,000. Should be a very handsome investment for all of us."

But anticipating a possible backlash, the company warned in an internal memo that advocates for HIV patients might react to the price hike.

Valeant likewise identified revenue goals first and then used drug prices to reach them, committee staff said in a memo. It said Valeant believed it could repeatedly raise the prices of Nitropress and Isuprel without repercussions because they're administered by hospitals, which are less price-sensitive than consumers.

Valeant used patient assistance programs to distract attention and justify its price hikes, according to the memo.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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