He’s baaaaack! Two weeks after coming under fire for raising the price of the toxoplasmosis drug Daraprim from $13.50 to $750 per pill and then promising to lower it in reaction to public outcry, Turing Pharmaceuticals CEO Martin Shkreli has returned to the public eye in grand style. And he’s brought his unfiltered Twitter persona with him.
Shkreli’s reappearance comes in the wake of the news that Turing has reportedly still not changed the cost of Daraprim. On Wednesday, the Human Rights Campaign asked Shkreli, once again, to lower the price of Daraprim—a request laden with extra significance because Daraprim is used to treat HIV patients, for whom Toxoplasma infection can prove deadly. Hillary Clinton joined in, too, urging Shkreli to “stop the delay.”
After Shkreli first announced the price drop, he set his Twitter to private and maintained a lower public profile. But apparently, he could resist the spotlight no longer. He has now set his account back to public, dropped any pretense of discretion, and gone back to being the man that we have all come to know and hate. Perhaps one Saturday Night Live parody just wasn’t enough for him.
On Wednesday, Shkreli reacted to the renewed calls for a Daraprim price change by calling Fox News contributor Tammy Bruce “amazingly dense” for questioning his honesty and telling her that “[t]he decision requires input from our stakeholders (patients, docs, not you) and that takes time.”
The Daily Beast asked Shkreli on Twitter and Turing Pharmaceuticals via email when the price of Daraprim would be reduced and did not receive immediate responses in either instance. Two weeks out, there is still no indication that Shkreli will follow through on his promise to find a more reasonable price point.
But one thing is sure: The public won’t forget about him until he does.
During Shkreli’s brief hiatus from Twitter, the Internet was offered a brief glimpse at his seeming remorselessness when writer Eve Peyser matched with him on Tinder and published an exchange with him in which the CEO joked, “Hopefully you don’t need ’em” in response to her pointed request for AIDS drugs. During the conversation, Shkreli behaved very much as he did on his media tour two weeks ago, defending the now-debunked justifications for raising the price of the life-saving medication by several thousand percent.
But was this just Shkreli venting about his treatment in the media during an unguarded moment on Tinder, or had he really not changed?
It appears we now have our answer. In the last two days, the most hated man in America has handily reclaimed his title and returned to being his usual, charming self. His Twitter feed is now a characteristic Shkreli blend of sparring with journalists, condescending to his critics, and retweeting the handful of people left in the world who apparently don’t hate his guts.
“You smell liberal,” he told another critic.
And, of course, there is Shkreli’s long-running feud with FierceBiotech editor-in-chief John Carroll, whom he called a “moron” two weeks ago. In an insult that can only be described as Trump-esque, Shkreli called Carroll’s publication “insignificant” today, saying that “[it] hasn’t gotten any scoops before, why would it now?” He also tweeted out an angry letter that he has written to Carroll, in which he accuses the editor of being “blinded by an ad hominem rage.”
When someone observed that Shkreli himself seemed to be lashing out at his critics, particularly Bruce, he responded: “[I]t’s hard to stay standing when your interlocutor wants to roll in the mud.”
The only silver lining: So far, Shkreli has not tweeted any Eminem lyrics, although we shouldn’t count him out just yet.
In a grim bit of irony, Shkreli’s resurrection of his Twitter account comes in the midst of reports that he wants to “rehabilitate his image,” as Reuters noted Wednesday. In an interview with Activist Shorts Research obtained by Reuters, Shkreli boasted that “[e]very media advisor is on our payroll” and that his plan to redeem himself in the public eye was “very expensive” and “well articulated.” If his current behavior is any indication, that plan is to do nothing different.
“I’m not sure it’s going to dramatically change the way I act,” Shkreli admitted in the interview, citing truth and authenticity as the ideals that guide his behavior.
“If you react to how people act to you, you end up being a ghost of yourself, and that’s one of the worst things that could happen,” he said.
A case could be made, of course, that a worse thing that could happen to a person would be to have a Toxoplasma infection while pregnant or suffering from AIDS, but everything’s relative.
At this point, any alterations to Shkreli’s public image will probably not come in time for the start of a congressional investigation led by the House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform. As BuzzFeed reports, Turing has been asked to deliver documents pertaining to revenue from Daraprim by Friday, and the company has announced its plans to comply.
According to Newsweek, Shkreli himself is also being investigated by federal prosecutors for multiple allegations of wrongdoing dating from his time as director of the pharmaceutical company Retrophin. It was while Shkreli was at Retrophin that he allegedly harassed former employee Timothy Pierrotti and his family across multiple forms of social media, as The Daily Beast reported two weeks ago.
As Shkreli continues his old tricks, he is also ensuring that public attention will remain on the pharmaceutical industry as an election year approaches. As The Hill notes, Turing’s handling of Daraprim now has Sen. Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton competing to propose new regulations on the pharmaceutical industry, although such measures would be unlikely to pass in the current Congress.
If Shkreli had lowered the price promptly two weeks ago and retreated from view, he may have been forgotten just as quickly in a fast-moving news cycle. But he’s thrust himself in the spotlight once more, he appears unrepentant, and his appetite for Twitter drama seems to be unquenchable.
Back in 2010, Eminem recalled for Spin, “I started to become that cliché: my own worst enemy.”
At the very least, Shkreli is following in the footsteps of his muse.