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Martin Shkreli asks to be furloughed from prison to work on COVID-19 treatments

Published on 07/04/20 at 11:53am
Photo by House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform

Disgraced biotech entrepreneur Martin Shkreli, also known as the ‘Pharma Bro’, is asking for a brief furlough from prison to spend time working on a treatment for COVID-19.

Shkreli is currently serving a seven-year prison sentence for securities fraud at Allenwood Penitentiary.

Shkreli co-authored a paper published online this week detailing efforts he and his business partners had made in researching potential treatments for coronavirus. They claim to have used software to screen more than 100,000 compounds against a model of COVID-19 and subsequently cut the shortlist down to eight available drugs that could be used to treat the virus.

The paper is credited to a business Shkreli created with one of the paper’s co-authors Kevin Mulleady. Called Prospero Pharmaceuticals, a 2019 lawsuit against Mulleady alleged that this company had been established to undercut Retrophin, Shkreli’s old workplace.

Shkreli could not be reached for comment to confirm if he actually worked on the project. However, Christie Smythe, a journalist writing a book about him, is in regular contact with Shkreli and says he worked on the paper.

Derek Lowe, a medicinal chemist, looked over Shkreli’s alleged work as said it was “not crazy, but neither is it particularly groundbreaking, either, at least to my eyes.”

The work is similar to research being conducted throughout the pharmaceutical industry, where companies are assessing existing treatments to see how COVID-19 patients respond to them. The Ebola drug remdivisir and malaria drug hydroxychloroquine are two of the more well-known ones being used in trials at present.

At the end of the paper Shkreli wrote: “Donations from these very valuable companies do not go far enough. The biopharmaceutical industry has a large braintrust of talent that is not working on this problem, as companies have deprioritized or even abandoned infectious disease research.”

Shkreli also said if he was released he would not expect any profit from the treatments he develops adding that “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.”

Martin Shkreli became infamous in 2015 when his company Vyera Pharmaceuticals orchestrated an elaborate anticompetitive scheme to control the market for Daraprim. They raised the list price of Daraprim, a drug used to treat toxoplasmosis, by 4000% from $17.50 to $750.

Conor Kavanagh

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