'Pharma Bro' Martin Shkreli asks for prison release to develop coronavirus drugs

The "Pharma Bro" is hoping for a three-month furlough from prison

Graig Graziosi
Tuesday 07 April 2020 19:18 BST
Martin Shkreli has been sentenced to seven years in prison

The "Pharma Bro" Martin Shkreli is trying to get out of prison by claiming he could be useful in the fight against the coronavirus.

Shkreli, 37, has been in prison since 2018 for stealing $11m worth of stock from his own company to pay off investors in his failed hedge fund and earned public ire when he raised the cost of Daraprim from $13.50 a pill to $750 per pill. He is currently on track for release from prison in 2023.

The disgraced drug seller made his pitch for release in an 11-page document published by Prospero Pharma, a company Shkreli co-founded in 2015. The company was the subject of a 2019 lawsuit when it was accused of forming solely to undercut the company Retrophin, where Shkreli had been fired.

In the document, he claims he doesn't want to be released for personal gain, but because he's a "two-time biopharma entrepreneur" and could offer valuable insight into the development of a coronavirus treatment.

His plea requests a three-month furlough "to assist in research work on Covid-19" and said that being "released to the post-Covid world is no solace to even the incarcerated."

Shkreli said he didn't expect to profit from the work and said that companies developing drugs should only recoup the costs of the drug's development, and shouldn't treat development as a profit-making venture.

"I believe any company developing a coronavirus drug should seek to recoup its cost at most and be willing to perform the work as a civil service at the least," he said.

In addition to pleading for his release, Shkreli also criticised the nation's response to the pandemic and argued that biopharma companies should be throwing their full weight behind seeking a cure.

"The industry response to Covid-19 is inadequate. All biopharmaceutical companies should be responding with all resources to combat this health emergency," he wrote. "Donations from these very valuable companies do not go far enough."

Shkreli's lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, told the New York Post that "left to his own devices, I believe Martin could cure cancer."

However, industry blogger and medicinal chemist Derek Lowe spoke with Stat and said Shkreli's work was "not crazy, but neither is it particularly groundbreaking, either, at least to my eyes."

Mr Lowe seemed sceptical of Shkreli's suggestions that his contributions to the field would warrant a furlough from his sentence.

"We're not setting up another Manhattan Project, and we're not looking for another Robert Oppenheimer, either," Mr Lower said. "But from the tone of his comments, I'm not sure if he realises either of those points.

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