Turin chief Martin Shkreli agrees to $2 million contract for purchase of a music recording which the artist, Wu-Tang Clan, stipulates they can later attempt to “steal back”
The British newspaper The Independent reported this month that the one existing copy of the newest music album by hip-hop act Wu-Tang Clan was bought by a pharmaceutical CEO (reportedly for $2 million) and that, “then the buyer, Martin Shkreli, started a YouTube live stream, teasing that he might play the album for viewers.”
The outside-the-box marketing of the musicians notwithstanding, the story is unsavory at best, especially for ill patients who have been priced out of using their regular medications due to what many have called price-gouging by the childish, whimsical Shkreli.
Also this month, the New York Times reported that, “Under a program created by Congress in 2007, companies that get drugs approved for qualifying tropical diseases receive a voucher that entitles the holder to an expedited review by the F.D.A. of another drug, shaving four months off the process. A similar program was created for rare pediatric diseases. For a company with a drug for diabetes or arthritis with expected sales of billions of dollars a year, an extra four months on the market before patents expire could be valuable. So companies that earn the vouchers typically sell them to other drug companies for prices that have reached $350 million.”
“But critics say that the award of a voucher for FDA approval of a drug already used in tropical countries is more a get-rich-quick scheme than a benefit to people with neglected diseases,” added the New York daily.
“It’s an abuse of the system,” Dr. Bernard Pécoul, executive director of the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative, a nonprofit organization, told the paper.
The Times also noted that Mr. Shkreli’s previous company, Retrophin, “sold a voucher to Sanofi for $245 million, though that happened after he had left.”
Benznidazole, a treatment for the parasite-borne Chagas disease was developed by Roche in the 1970s. In 2003, says the Times, “Roche donated its remaining supply and the rights [citing low sales] to Lafepe, a company owned by a state government in Brazil. A severe shortage occurred a few years ago. A company in Argentina, Elea Laboratories, then became a supplier.”
With Shkreli at the helm of KaloBios, “the [FDA] voucher could be the real prize,” according to the New York Times.
But amid all the speculation and billion-dollar strategies the shrewd Shkreli employs—sometimes to the detriment of patients who need life-saving medications—we learn of his spending many millions on his whims.
A document leaked on Twitter exemplifies the high-stakes games Shkreli plays while jacking up the prices of pharmaceuticals under his control. Regarding the exclusive music CD, the buyer-seller contract document says that “the buying party also agrees that at any time during the stipulated 88-year period, the seller may legally plan and attempt to execute one (1) heist or caper to steal back Once Upon a Time in Shaolin, which, if successful, would return all ownership rights to the seller. Said heist or caper can only be undertaken by currently active members of the Wu-Tang Clan and/or actor Bill Murray, with no legal repercussions.”
Again, while one can admire the creativity of the musicians’ marketing and their sense of humor, the whole scenario reflects poorly on an executive with so much power over the health and well-being of large patient populations.
The Independent reported more recently that “after Shkreli’s business practices came to light, [group member] RZA confirmed Wu-Tang will be donating a ‘significant portion’ of the proceeds from the album’s sale to charity.