"Pharma Bro" Martin Shkreli Wants To Be Released From Prison To Work On COVID-19 Drugs

NEW YORK - JUNE 29, 2017: Martin Shkreli leaves federal court on June 29, 2017 in Brooklyn, New York. JStone/Shutterstock

Remember Martin Shkreli? The guy who drove a massive 5,000 percent price hike on a lifesaving drug used by people with HIV before being sent to prison for fraud?

Well, like a stubborn rash, he’s back again. The so-called “pharma bro” is asking for a brief break from prison so he can help to develop a treatment for COVID-19.

In a paper posted to the website of Shkreli's company Prospero Pharmaceuticals, the jailed entrepreneur, along with four other “citizen scientists” and business partners, detail eight existing drugs that could be used to treat COVID-19. Since he is serving seven years in prison – for, amongst other things, defrauding investors in a drug company by not disclosing he owned shares – Shkreli finished the paper with a personal request to be released from prison so he could work on the project. 

“I am asking for a brief furlough (3 months) to assist in research work on COVID-19. Being released to the post-COVID world is no solace to even the incarcerated,” Shkreli wrote.

“As a successful two-time biopharma entrepreneur, having purchased multiple companies, invented multiple new drug candidates, filed numerous INDs and clinical trial applications, I am one of the few executives experienced in ALL aspects of drug development from molecule creation and hypothesis generation, to preclinical assessments and clinical trial design/target engagement demonstration, and manufacturing/synthesis and global logistics and deployment of medicines,” he continued.

Ben Brafman, a Manhattan lawyer who has previously defended Harvey Weinstein and rapper P Diddy, said he will file court papers asking federal authorities to release Shkreli for three months so he can do laboratory work “under strict supervision,” according to the Associated Press. 

In 2018, Shkreli was sentenced to seven years of prison time and up to $7.4 million in fines after being convicted of two counts of securities fraud and one count of conspiring to commit securities fraud. He is currently being held at a low-security prison in Pennsylvania. Before his run-ins with the law, Shkreli gained attention for his role as CEO at Turing Pharmaceuticals in 2015 after he bought the rights to the antiparasitic drug Daraprim, used by patients with weakened immune systems to fight infection, such as those with HIV, AIDS or cancer, and raised its price from $13.50 per pill to $750.

In 2014, he did something similar. As chief executive officer of Retrophin Inc. he bought the rights to the drug Thiola, the only drug available to treat the kidney disease cystinuria, and hiked the price from $1.50 per pill to $30, a price hike of 2,000 percent.

Unsurprisingly, these moves didn’t make him very popular. The media dubbed him "the most hated man in America" and "Pharma Bro," a reputation that he didn’t shy away from with his antagonistic online personaIn one of his online stunts, he bought the only existing copy of the Wu-Tang Clan album Once Upon a Time in Shaolin for $2 million. In October 2016, he tweeted he would make his entire music collection, including the one-off album, available to download for free if Donald Trump won the US presidential election, but would destroy the album if Hillary Clinton won. The album was eventually seized by a federal court as a part of his assets following Shrekli’s conviction. 

Perhaps anticipating people questioning his altruistic intentions for becoming involved, he added: "For the avoidance of doubt, I have not been paid for any work on this matter or any other matter while incarcerated. I do not expect to profit in any way, shape or form from coronavirus-related treatments." 

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