In Brief

Cash Rules Everything Around Medicine: Big Pharma Exec Buys Only Copy of New Wu-Tang Clan Album

The hand-carved nickel-silver box, designed by Yahya, that contains the only copy of the Wu-Tang Clan album 'Once Upon a Time in Shaolin..." (2015). (photo © Rashaad Patterson, courtesy Paddle8)
The hand-carved nickel-silver box, designed by Yahya, that contains the only copy of the Wu-Tang Clan album ‘Once Upon a Time in Shaolin…’ (2015). (photo © Rashaad Patterson, courtesy Paddle8)

Today a Bloomberg Business article revealed the buyer of the only copy of the new Wu-Tang Clan album, Once Upon a Time in Shaolin…, to be pharmaceutical executive Martin Shkreli. If that name sounds familiar it may be because Shkreli recently earned himself the distinction of being “the most hated man in America” — not quite as catchy as “Method Man,” but what can you do? — when his company Turing Pharmaceuticals AG bought the manufacturing rights to the drug pyrimethamine (distributed as Darapim and used, among other things, to treat individuals living with HIV) and immediately raised its per-tablet price from $13.50 to $750.

“The sale of Once Upon a Time in Shaolin was agreed upon in May, well before Martin Skhreli’s [sic] business practices came to light,” Wu-Tang leader RZA told Bloomberg Business. “We decided to give a significant portion of the proceeds to charity.”

Shkreli reportedly paid $2 million (or the equivalent of 2,667 Daraprim tablets) to become the sole owner of the 31-track, 128-minute album, a sale that was brokered by online art auction startup Paddle8. The record comes in a box of hand-carved nickel-silver, designed by the artist Yahya, that also contains a leather-bound, 174-page book of lyrics and notes about the development of each song. “This is like somebody having the scepter of an Egyptian king,” RZA told Forbes when the super-exclusive gilded album project was first revealed.

Martin Shkreli (screenshot via @MartinShkreli/Twitter)
Martin Shkreli (screenshot via @MartinShkreli/Twitter) (click to enlarge)

Judging by his public comments, Shkreli does indeed consider himself to be a kind of big pharma pharaoh. “Typically you would say, ‘As an average fan, I can’t get Fetty Wap to give me a personal concert,’ ” he told Bloomberg Business shortly before a Turing Pharmaceuticals holiday party at which the rapper Fetty Wap was performing. “The reality is, sure you could. You know, at the right price these guys basically will do anything.”

For the right price, apparently, Shkreli will also do anything. By way of justifying his company’s price-gauging of pyrimethamine, he said: “What’s escaped the conversation is, hey, how about the fact that this is actually what I’ve been hired to do …. It’s like someone criticizing a basketball player for scoring too many points.” And while Shkreli scores points for his company, people living with a deadly virus are paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to be treated with a drug that cost a fraction of the price four months ago.

In September Stephen B. Calderwood, the president of Diseases Society of America, and Adaora Adimora, the chair of the HIV Medicine Association, wrote to Shkreli’s company pleading for a revision of its pricing scheme.

“Pyrimethamine is particularly important for the treatment of toxoplasmosis, a parasitic infection that has severe consequences if not effectively treated in pregnant women, patients with HIV infection, cancers, and other conditions that compromise the immune system,” they explained. “Under the current pricing structure, it is estimated that the annual cost of treatment for toxoplasmosis, for the pyrimethamine component alone, will be $336,000 for patients who weigh less than 60 kilograms and $634,500 for patients who weigh more than 60 kilograms. This cost is unjustifiable for the medically vulnerable patient population in need of this medication and unsustainable for the health care system.”

Shkreli seems unmoved. In an interview in late September, he said: “We know, these days, in modern pharmaceuticals, cancer drugs can cost $100,000 or more …. Daraprim is still under-priced relative to its peers.” He must be getting financial advice from …

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