Martin Shkreli (/ˈʃkrɛli/, born March 17, 1983) is an American businessman, former hedge fund manager, and convicted felon. He is the co-founder of the hedge funds Elea Capital, MSMB Capital Management, and MSMB Healthcare; co-founder and former chief executive officer (CEO) of the biotechnology firm Retrophin; and founder and former CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals. Shkreli is also the CEO of start-up software company Gödel Systems, which he founded in August 2016.
In September 2015, Shkreli received widespread criticism when Turing obtained the manufacturing license for the antiparasitic drug Daraprim and raised its price by a factor of 56 (from US$13.5 to US$750 per pill), leading him to be referred to as "the most hated man in America" and "Pharma Bro".
In December 2015, Shkreli was arrested by the FBI after being indicted on federal charges of securities fraud. He subsequently resigned as CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals and was replaced by the company's board chairman, Ron Tilles. Shkreli was convicted of two counts of securities fraud and one count of conspiring to commit securities fraud in August 2017.
Shkreli was born in Coney Island Hospital, Brooklyn. His parents are Albanian immigrants from Montenegro who worked as janitors. He, his two sisters, and his brother grew up in a working-class community in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. Shkreli was raised Catholic and attended Sunday school as a child.
Shkreli attended Hunter College High School. He dropped out before his senior year due to a lack of interest, but received the credits necessary for his diploma through a program that placed him in an internship at Wall Street hedge fund Cramer, Berkowitz and Company when he was 17. Sources differ on whether Shkreli graduated from Hunter or whether he received sufficient credits there but actually graduated from City-As-School High School. In March 2015, Hunter College High School announced that Shkreli had donated $1,000,000 to them.
Shkreli received a BBA in Finance and Economics from Baruch College in 2004. Shkreli told Vanity Fair that he developed an interest in chemistry when a family member suffered from treatment-resistant depression.
During Shkreli's time at Cramer, Berkowitz and Company, he recommended short-selling a biotech stock, believing that the company's share price would drop. When it did so, Cramer's hedge fund profited. In 2003, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals was testing a weight‑loss drug, and Shkreli, then 19, predicted that the stock price would fall. Shkreli's prediction drew the attention of the Securities and Exchange Commission, which investigated Shkreli's knowledge about the stock but was unable to prove wrongdoing on his part.
After four years as an associate at Cramer Berkowitz, Shkreli worked as a financial analyst for Intrepid Capital Management and UBS Wealth Management. He then started his first hedge fund, Elea Capital Management, in 2006. "In 2007, Lehman Brothers sued Elea in New York state court for failing to cover a 'put option transaction' in which Shkreli bet the wrong way on a broad market decline. When stocks rose, Shkreli didn't have the funds to make the bank whole. In October 2007, Lehman Brothers won a $2.3 million default judgment against Shkreli and Elea", but Lehman collapsed before it could collect on the ruling.
In September 2009, Shkreli started his own business. He launched MSMB Capital Management, which took its name from the initials of the two founding portfolio managers, Shkreli and his childhood friend, Marek Biestek. Shkreli and Biestek shorted biotech companies, then described flaws in the companies on stock trading chat rooms.
On February 1, 2011, in a naked short sale on an account it held with Merrill Lynch, MSMB Capital sold short 32 million shares of Orexigen Therapeutics stock at about $2.50 per share the day after its price plunged from $9.09, when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) declined to approve the drug Contrave. The stock price rebounded; MSMB could not cover the position, although it had told Merrill Lynch that it could. Merrill Lynch lost $7 million on the trade and MSMB Capital was virtually wiped out. Retrophin's 2015 SEC Complaint contended Shkreli had created MSMB Healthcare and Retrophin "so that he could continue trading after MSMB Capital became insolvent and to create an asset that he might be able to use to placate his MSMB Capital investors."
In 2011, Shkreli filed requests with the FDA to reject a new cancer diagnostic device from Navidea Biopharmaceuticals and an inhalable insulin therapy from MannKind Corporation while publicly short-selling both companies' stocks, the values of which dropped after Shkreli's interventions. The companies had difficulty launching the products as a result, although the FDA ultimately approved both.
In 2011, MSMB made an unsolicited cash bid for AMAG Pharmaceuticals, US$378,000,000.
Matthew Herper of Forbes wrote that the attempted hostile takeover was "done for the specific purpose of firing the company’s management and stopping a proposed merger with Allos Therapeutics. When the merger plans stopped, so did Shkreli."
Shkreli founded Retrophin (a portmanteau of "recombinant dystrophin") in 2011 under the MSMB umbrella, and ran it as a portfolio company with an emphasis on biotechnology, to create treatments for rare diseases.
Retrophin's board decided to replace Shkreli in September 2014, and he resigned from the company the following month. He was replaced by Stephen Aselage. During Shkreli's tenure as CEO, the company's employees used alias Twitter accounts to make gangster rap jokes and encourage short selling of other biotech stocks.
After Shkreli's departure, Retrophin filed a US$65 million lawsuit against him in August 2015, claiming that he had breached his duty of loyalty to the biopharmaceutical company in a long-running dispute over his use of company funds and "committed stock-trading irregularities and other violations of securities rules". The lawsuit alleged that Shkreli had threatened and harassed a former MSMB employee and his family.
Shkreli and some of his business associates have been under criminal investigation by the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York since January 2015. Shkreli invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in order to avoid testifying during civil depositions.
Shkreli's name is on two patents held by Retrophin for drugs to treat PKAN.
Critics argued that Shkreli was intelligent but too immature and unfocused for the job of CEO. In July 2017, at Shkreli's criminal trial, Aselage testified: "He's [Shkreli] a brilliant intellect, visionary."
In May 2014 Retrophin acquired the rights to market Thiola, a drug used to treat the rare disease cystinuria. Shortly before Retrophin fired Shkreli, Retrophin raised the price of Thiola from $1.50 to $30 per pill; patients must take 10 to 15 pills a day.
In an article titled "The Most Unconscionable Drug Price Hike I Have Yet Seen", medicinal chemist Derek Lowe wrote of the Thiola action, "This one enrages me, and I do drug research for a living". Retrophin did not lower the price after Shkreli's departure.
In February 2016 Imprimis Pharmaceuticals announced it had developed an alternative to Thiola with an unspecified lower cost and in May 2016 began selling two formulations of it.
Shkreli founded Turing Pharmaceuticals in February 2015, after his departure from Retrophin. He launched Turing with three drugs in development acquired from Retrophin: an intranasal version of ketamine for depression, an intranasal version of oxytocin, and Vecamyl for hypertension. Shkreli set a business strategy for Turing: to obtain licenses on out-of-patent medicines and reevaluate the pricing of each in pursuit of windfall profits for the new company, without the need to develop and bring its own drugs to market. As markets for out-of-patent drugs are often small, and obtaining regulatory approval to manufacture a generic version is expensive, Turing calculated that with closed distribution for the product and no competition, it could set high prices.
On August 10, 2015, in accordance with Shkreli's business plan, Turing acquired Daraprim (pyrimethamine), a medication approved by the FDA in 1953, from Impax Laboratories for US$55 million. The drug's most prominent use as of late 2015 was as an anti-malarial and an antiparasitic, in conjunction with leucovorin and sulfadiazine to treat patients with AIDS-related and AIDS-unrelated toxoplasmosis.
The patent for Daraprim had expired, but no generic version was available. The Turing–Impax deal included the condition that Impax remove the drug from regular wholesalers and pharmacies, and so in June 2015, two months before the sale to Turing was announced, Impax switched to tightly controlled distribution. In keeping with its strategy for pricing in the face of limited competition (see above), Turing maintained the closed distribution. The New York Times noted that the deal "made sense only if Turing planned to raise the price of the drug substantially."
On September 17, 2015, Dave Muoio of Healio, an in-depth clinical information website for health care specialists, reported on a letter from the Infectious Diseases Society of America and the HIV Medicine Association to executives at Turing, questioning a new pricing for Daraprim. The price of a dose of the drug in the U.S. market increased from US$13.50 to US$750 per pill, overnight, a factor of 56.
The price increase was initially criticized, jointly, by the Infectious Diseases Society of America and the HIV Medicine Association, by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, and soon thereafter by presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Donald Trump.
A subsequent organized effort called on Turing to return pricing to pre-September levels and to address several matters relating to the needs of patients, an effort that garnered endorsements from more than 160 medical‑specialty and patient‑related organizations (as of December 2015, 164 organizations from thirty-one states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico).
In response to the controversy, the record label Collect Records publicly ended its business relationship with Shkreli, who had invested in the company.
In a September 2015 interview with Bloomberg Markets, Shkreli claimed that despite the price increase, patient co-pays would actually be lower, that many patients would get the drug at no cost, that Turing had expanded its free drug program, and that it sold half of its drugs for one dollar. He defended the price hike by saying, "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." A few days later, Shkreli announced that he planned to lower the price by an unspecified amount, "in response to the anger that was felt by people". But in late November, Turing reversed course and said it would not lower the price after all.
Following a request by Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Elijah Cummings for details of Turing Pharmaceuticals' finances and price-setting practices in September 2015, the company hired four lobbyists from Buchanan, Ingersoll & Rooney with backgrounds in health care legislation and pharmaceutical pricing. In addition to lobbyists, Shkreli hired a crisis public relations firm to help explain the pricing decision.
On October 22, 2015, Mark L. Baum, CEO of Imprimis Pharmaceuticals, announced that his company would provide a combination product containing pyrimethamine (the active ingredient in Daraprim) and leucovorin at "$1-a-pill" as a cheaper and more efficient alternative to Daraprim. This product is intended to be used alongside sulfadiazine in the standard protocol to treat toxoplasmosis typically seen in AIDS patients.
Baum noted, "This is not the first time a sole supply generic drug – especially one that has been approved for use as long as Daraprim – has had its price increased suddenly and to a level that may make it unaffordable". He announced the availability of the compounded replacement for Daraprim as a part of a larger corporate program, "Imprimis Cares", to make "novel and customizable medicines available to physicians and patients at accessible prices". Imprimis is now offering its compounded, orally taken formulations of pyrimethamine and leucovorin beginning at US$99 for a 100‑count bottle, essentially a dollar a dose.
On November 23, 2015, Turing announced that the company would not reduce the list price of Daraprim, but said it planned instead to negotiate volume discounts of up to 50% for hospitals. Turing issued a statement that it was not as important to cut the list price as to reduce the cost to hospitals, where most patients get their initial treatment. The company pledged that no patient needing Daraprim would ever be denied access.
Infectious disease specialists and patient advocates, including Tim Horn of the Treatment Action Group and Carlos del Rio of the HIV Medicine Association, said Turing's actions were insufficient, given that patients initially treated for days at a hospital typically have to continue the treatment for weeks or months after leaving.
In November 2015, an investor group led by Shkreli acquired a majority stake in KaloBios Pharmaceuticals (OTC Pink Limited: KBIOQ), a biopharmaceutical company based in South San Francisco, California. Shkreli was named CEO of the company and also planned to continue in the role of CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals. After his December 2015 arrest, KaloBios Pharmaceuticals terminated him as CEO. On December 29, 2015, KaloBios filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. This followed NASDAQ delisting its shares, and the resignation of two directors.
Shkreli founded Gödel Systems in August 2016 as "a professional software company that aims to be the leading information provider of data, workflow, and communications solutions for financial, law, and scientific professionals." By February 2017 Gödel Systems was looking to raise $1 million through a debt offering, and had raised $50,000 out of the $1 million in debt it began issuing in mid-January 2017, according to regulatory filings. Ralph Holzmann, a former senior engineer at Twitter, is the firm's chief technology officer.
Shkreli was subpoenaed to appear before the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform of the U.S. House of Representatives to answer questions about the Daraprim price increase. Shkreli's efforts to quash the subpoena were unsuccessful.
On February 4, 2016, Shkreli appeared before the House committee, along with Nancy Retzlaff, the Chief Commercial Officer of Turing, and Howard B. Schiller, the interim CEO of Valeant.
Shkreli followed his lawyer's advice and refused to answer any questions, except to confirm his name. – including those related to his acquisition of the most expensive music album ever made – by exercising his Fifth Amendment rights.
On the same day, Shkreli wrote a public message on Twitter reading, "Hard to accept that these imbeciles represent the people in our government", and later he took to the internet saying he was willing to take questions from the public that he’d refused to answer before Congress, justifying his position by accusing the Congressmen of being motivated purely by “self-interest.”
On December 17, 2015, Shkreli was arrested by the FBI after a federal indictment in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York was filed, charging him with securities fraud. The charges were filed after an investigation into his tenure at MSMB Capital Management and Retrophin. He was accused of running a Ponzi-like scheme.
A United States Department of Justice press release said, "As alleged, Martin Shkreli engaged in multiple schemes to ensnare investors through a web of lies and deceit". In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Shkreli said that he was targeted by law enforcement for his price hikes of the drug Daraprim and his flamboyant personality.
In his nationally syndicated column, political commentator Robert Reich wrote that what Shkreli did wrong was to be more audacious while "play[ing] the same game many others are playing on Wall Street and in corporate suites".
In early 2016, Shkreli retained criminal defense attorney Benjamin Brafman to defend him. At his 2017 trial, Shkreli argued that none of his investors actually lost money (some actually turned a profit) and thus his actions did not constitute a crime. Shkreli's frequent criticisms of the federal prosecutors in New York's Eastern District, whom he called "junior varsity" compared to their counterparts in the Southern District across the East River, both on his Facebook streaming video feed and in the hallways of the courthouse, led those prosecutors to request that judge Kiyo A. Matsumoto issue a gag order to prevent what they called a "campaign of disruption." Brafman claimed in response that his client was responding to baiting from the media and was also suffering from extreme anxiety because of his situation. Matsumoto ordered Shkreli not to speak with reporters, either in the courthouse or its immediate vicinity.
On August 4, 2017, the trial jury found Martin Shkreli guilty on two counts of securities fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit securities fraud, and not guilty on five other counts. Shkreli said he was delighted with the outcome, stating "this was a witch hunt of epic proportions." Shkreli’s attorney, Benjamin Brafman, told reporters that five not-guilty verdicts is positive, and said he thinks that the three guilty verdicts—if they survive post-trial motions—will lead to a lenient sentence.
On September 13, 2017, his bail was revoked following a Facebook post offering $5,000 for a strand of Hillary Clinton's hair which the judge perceived as solicitation to assault, which is not protected under the First Amendment. Shkreli's post was preceded by others that suggested he might have plans to clone Hillary Clinton. According to him, this was satire, and according to his lawyer, this satire may have been tasteless, but was not made in a threatening manner. Shkreli edited the post to add a disclaimer that it was satire, and later said he did this minutes after publication. Shkreli was sent to the Metropolitan Detention Center, Brooklyn to serve out jail time until his sentencing hearing on January 16, 2018, during which his ultimate sentence will be determined.
In January 2016, Fortune estimated the then 32-year-old Shkreli's net worth as at least US $45,000,000 but later updated its profile to reflect that "[S]ince this article was published the value of Shkreli's E*Trade account has dropped by more than $40 million". Shkreli leveraged a US $4,000,000 E-Trade account for his bail.
In June 2017, Reuters reported that Shkreli had reported his net worth at $70 million after being arrested in 2015 and that his attorney Benjamin Brafman, in a hearing before Judge Kiyo Matsumoto, had conceded that his client still owned shares of Turing Pharmaceuticals worth between $30 to $50 million.
Shkreli has a variety of interests ranging from collecting rare music albums to video gaming. He is an avid League of Legends player and in May 2014 he began expressing interest in purchasing an eSports team, Enemy eSports announced that it had rejected a US$1.2 million offer from Shkreli. He later founded his own team, Odyssey eSports, and aimed to qualify for the 2015 North American League of Legends Challenger Series. The team failed to qualify. In August 2015, Odyssey merged with another team to become the organisation Team Imagine, with Shkreli becoming chairman of the team. During the merger, the organization signed the Dota 2 team Leviathan.
In November 2015, Shkreli began livestreaming on YouTube. His streams, which last for hours at a time, have shown him working and idly passing time in mundane ways, such as playing video games, using social media or taking telephone calls. Later he conducted lessons in market analysis and chemistry, explaining the basics of each subject. He had previously streamed on the website Twitch but switched to YouTube. When Shkreli was arraigned in December and released on bail, he continued streaming from his apartment.
Shkreli was revealed as the winner of an auction for the Wu-Tang Clan album Once Upon a Time in Shaolin after the single copy of the album was sold via Paddle8 on November 24, 2015, for US$2 million to what was reported to be a "private American collector". On December 9, 2015, Bloomberg Businessweek identified Shkreli as the purchaser. In October 2016, Shkreli claimed on his Twitter that he would release the album for free download if Donald Trump won the 2016 US presidential election and would destroy the album if Hillary Clinton won. He shared the intro and one track the day after Trump became the President-elect. In early September 2017, he put the album for sale on eBay, selling for $1,025,100.
In February 2016, he announced in an offer letter $10 million to become the sole owner of Kanye West's album The Life of Pablo. On February 12, 2016, Shkreli increased his offer for West's The Life of Pablo from $10 million to $15 million.
Shkreli was formerly a benefactor of Collect Records, a record label run by musician Geoff Rickly, and offered to bail out rapper Bobby Shmurda; Shkreli retracted this offer after his own arrest.
In January 2017, Shkreli's Twitter account was suspended after repeatedly tweeting about dating journalist Lauren Duca, and then sharing Photoshopped pictures of himself with Duca on his account. In another Tweet, Shkreli had promoted "clovergender awareness", referring to a hoax trend of adults identifying as children, while also being sexually attracted to them. In May 2017, Shkreli confirmed on his Facebook page that he had been banned permanently from Twitter.
In 2017 on his Facebook account, Shkreli offered $5,000 to anyone who would pull hair from Hillary Clinton's head. He later apologized under pressure from federal prosecutors. But notwithstanding his apology, his bail was revoked and he was remanded to jail until his sentencing date, set in January 2018.
In October 2015, presidential candidate Bernie Sanders acknowledged having received a $2,700 donation from Shkreli, whom he had previously called a "poster child of greed". Sanders, however, said he would forward the money to Whitman-Walker Health, a D.C. community clinic known for its expertise in HIV/AIDS healthcare. Shkreli told medicine news portal STAT that among his reasons for donating to Sanders' campaign was that he supports some of Sanders' positions, excluding the ones about drug prices. He claimed he hoped to raise Sanders' attention in order to explain to him in a private meeting the drug companies' price-setting mechanisms. In February 2017, Shkreli was invited to speak at Harvard University. The requested travel was approved by a judge.
Media related to Martin Shkreli at Wikimedia Commons