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Who is Martin Shkreli, and why is everyone glad he’s been arrested?

The entrepreneur hiked up the price of an HIV-related drug by over 5,000 per cent and has now been arrested on securities fraud charges. 

By Barbara Speed

Who is Martin Shkreli?

Shkreli was anointed “Most Hated Man in America” by the press back in September when his company, Turing Pharmaceuticals, bought the manufacturing licence for Daraprim, a medication used to treat and prevent malaria and treat some infections related to HIV. The drug is relatively specialist, which means that following the sale, Turing was its only US manufacturer. 

With this in mind, the company hiked the price of the drug from £13.50 per tablet to £750; a rise of over 5,000 per cent. It is also now only dispensed by a single pharmacy chain. The absurd scale of the hike led to outcry from patient rights groups, politicians, and, of course, the internet, especially as it would affect patients affected by HIV.

In response, Shkreli hired a PR firm to minimise the damage to the brand, and announced that Turing would offer patient assistance programs for those unable to pay.

Is this why he was arrested yesterday?

No. Shkreli was arrested by US law enforcement yesterday for securities fraud charges relating to an entirely separate company, Retrophin Inc., which he founded in 2011. According to Bloomberg, he was charged with illegaly taking stock from the company and using it to pay off separate business debts.

Why is everyone so happy about it?

Karma, basically. The arrest implies that the price-hiking, capitalism-obsessed businessman always gets his comeuppance in the end. However, as Chris Lehmann points out in the Guardian, Shkreli will likely win his case, and in reality, there has been (and will be) no real punishment for the price hike and its effect on patients. 

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Could he do something similar again? 

You’d hope other pharmaceutical companies would be wary of signing over manufacturing licenses to Turing after the furore earlier this year, but the pharmaceuticals industry is notoriously corrupt and largely ruled by the market. Shkreli’s defence against the backlash says it all:

“If there was a company that was selling an Aston Martin at the price of a bicycle, and we buy that company and we ask to charge Toyota prices, I don’t think that that should be a crime.

“When the people manufacturing and selling medicines can’t see that they’re any different to cars, we know we have a problem.”