Pharma outcast Shkreli riles up protesters at Boston speaking events

​​​​​​​Ex-Turing Pharma CEO Martin Shkreli, who infamously raised the price of a toxoplasmosis med, spoke at two events in Boston this week, sparking protests. (Image courtesy of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform)

As much as he tries, ex-Turing Pharma CEO Martin Shkreli can’t get away from his bad rep.

During two college speaking events at Boston this week, students lashed out at the former CEO, with one unruly attendee calling him a “murderer.”

Shkreli’s talk at Harvard had to be delayed 30 minutes while the building was evacuated after someone pulled a fire alarm, the Boston Globe reports. Before the event, protesters shook pill bottles with coins to demonstrate their dismay with pharmaceutical greed. 

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Shkreli earned his bad rep in a big way back in 2015, when his company raised the price on toxoplasmosis med Daraprim by 5,000% overnight. The move sparked an instant backlash and drew scorn from presidential candidates. The episode quickly pushed pharma’s pricing freedom into the public eye.

But Shkreli told those in attendance to “hear him out,” according to the publication.

At UMass Boston, Shkreli said the “average drug CEO is the person that you want to hate,” the Globe reports. He maintains his price hike was intended to raise funds to conduct research in the neglected disease.

That argument didn't convince an onslaught of critics who painted him as a poster boy of pharma greed after the increase. He was dubbed the “most hated man in America” by BBC after lashing out at critics on social media.

Since that infamous pricing decision, large drugmakers have worked feverishly to distance themselves from the “bad actors” who they say are taking advantage of the system.

But that’s proving difficult, and the public might not be noticing as much as they’d like.

Marathon Pharma, a member of industry trade group PhRMA, recently attached an $89,000 price tag to a decades-old med, triggering an immediate backlash that prompted the company to “pause” the launch.

Now, PhRMA is reconsidering Marathon’s membership.

After then-President-elect Donald Trump said the drug industry was “getting away with murder” back in January, Pfizer CEO Ian Read told a crowd at the World Economic Forum that he sees things differently.

“Most of the problem of reputation is coming from those that I don’t consider part of the ethical pharmaceutical business,” Read said in Davos.

Companies such as Pfizer conduct research, price responsibly and seek to recover R&D costs, Read argued. Others have done a great deal to mar pharma’s reputation, he said.

Shkreli faces securities fraud charges stemming from his time at Retrophin. A federal judge had to authorize his travel to Boston to give the talks, which were sponsored by the Harvard Financial Analysts Club and the Young Americans for Liberty. Much of his talk at Harvard focused on his earlier work as a hedge fund manager. 

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