Quite clearly, amongst the first considerations of Martin Shkreli upon his purchase of the rights to Dalaprim, a drug taken widely by those affected by HIV, was ‘how can I make the most money out of this drug?’ He clearly knew full well what he was buying into; Daraprim is on the World Health Organisation’s ‘List of Essential Medicines’, a list aiming to cover the absolutely basics required within a healthcare system for it to be effective. Given that the medicine is deemed essential by the likes of the WHO, and due to lack of alternatives, almost regardless of price, people are going to buy it. If they don’t, then they will face severe health complications. But then, why should that stand in the way of profit.
From a purely logical point of view, Shkreli’s position is very wise. He has bought up access to an essential good, and now is in a position to reap the benefits. In most other sectors, this would be a wise move; it would almost guarantee a massive profit, at least until an alternative product was created. However, in the world of medicine, morally unscrupulous actions can have a very real effect, costing people their lives if they cannot afford access to these vital drugs which play a role in keeping them alive.
On the other hand, however, Shkreli does have a point. In the process of the internet campaign against him, he reminded the global community that no alternative drugs exist; whilst this one can be produced cheaply, it has been around for 62 years now. He claimed that he would use part of the 5000% increase in price from $13 to $750 per pill to finance work into improving the recipe.
Unfortunately for Shkreli, he did himself no favours with his handling of the scandal when it broke. In response to mass criticism from a range of parties including major HIV/ AIDS support related charities, he opted for a somewhat aggressive series of tweets. If anything, this only escalated the situation further, drawing yet more people in, and seeing Shkreli labelled a ‘socially bankrupt sociopath’, amongst other things. When asked during a series of high profile television interviews if he would consider lowering the price, he said, very simply, ‘No’.
Then, on Tuesday, following what probably seemed like a never-ending torrent of abuse, and briefly winning the title of the ‘Internet’s Most Hated Person (for today)’, Shkreli gave in. Whilst no new price has been set, he has promised it will be affordable, and lower than the $750 price he originally intended to set. But, other companies have hiked prices for similar reasons before. So why did we get hooked up onto this particular case?
It is almost certainly simply due to the manner in which Shkreli conducted himself. Numerous other companies have raised prices of drugs on a similar grounds. If he had acted politely from the start, presenting his promise to ensure that it would remain accessible to everyone, he would have been successful. He would probably have made a huge amount of money too. Unfortunately for him, his somewhat less than scrupulous methods to generate huge profits quickly fell afoul of his own big mouth, and a lot of angry people on the internet. If he hadn’t opened his mouth, it would likely have passed unnoticed except by those suffering the consequences.
Well done internet, have a sticker you did good.