“Pharma Bro” Martin Shkreli, 37, is working on a cure for coronavirus.
He and several colleagues have posted a scientific paper online and offers the promise that he might be able to quickly develop a cure for COVID-19.
His biggest challenge is that he is in the custody of the US Bureau of Prisons, which has assigned him to a low-security federal prison in Allenwood, Pennsylvania. He isn’t scheduled to be released until September 2023.
In order to effect the cure, he needs some time out of prison.
“I am asking for a brief furlough (3 months) to assist in research work on COVID-19,” he wrote.
Shkreli was convicted of two counts of securities fraud and conspiracy to commit securities fraud in 2017, in an $11 million Ponzi scheme where he defrauded investors in hedge funds he ran. He was sentenced to 7 years in prison.
Shkreli earned the nickname “Pharma Bro” after his company, Turing Pharmaceuticals, acquired the rights to a drug used by AIDS patients, and hiked the price from $13.50 to $750 per pill. The price-gouging scandal was not illegal in and of itself.
Shkreli – who’s the lead author of the paper to investigate a fast track cure for coronavirus – says he does not want any money for his new humanitarian work.
“I do not expect to profit in any way, shape or form from coronavirus-related treatments,” he wrote.
The paper – titled “In silico screening for potential COVID-19 beta-coronavirus non-nucleoside RdRp inhibitors” – was posted on the website of “Prospero Pharmaceuticals,” which identifies itself as a biotech company that’s “developing therapies for unmet medical needs in orphan diseases.”
Here is what Shkreli plans to offer.
“While industry has made rapid and impressive progress in developing mRNAbased vaccines, neutralizing antibodies, and an intravenous nucleoside analog RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RdRp) inhibitor, further efforts are needed.
“Herein, we describe an in silico screening campaign aimed at generating non-nucleoside lead molecules with inhibitory activity against the coronavirus RdRp protein.
“We reveal a metabolite of clofazimine, a widelyused anti-leprotic and antibiotic, with global availability and long-term clinical experience, as a novel RdRp inhibitor. We also find widely prescribed, FDA-approved anti-hepatitis C nucleoside analogs paritaprevir and ledipasvir are more potent inhibitors of 2019-nCoV than the investigational agent remdesivir.
“Other candidate inhibitors include bafetinib, apilimod, and fimepinostat. In vitro studies are ongoing to determine inhibitory activity, with in vivo experiments to follow.
“The COVID-19 pandemic is a global health emergency that requires a coordinated response across government, academia, and industry. While impressive efforts have been made thus far, non-small molecule therapeutic modalities pose significant questions. Biologic technologies such as neutralizing antibodies are promising, but it remains to be seen if biologics manufacturing capacity will be available for any such therapy if proven effective. Manufacturing capacity is traditionally a major bottleneck for the production of these medicines at scale.
“mRNA-based vaccines appear very promising, but similar manufacturing questions exist for these liposomallyencapsulated medicines; none of which have received FDA approval at the time of this writing. Furthermore, any such vaccine, even if proven effective, will not be useful as a treatment for infected coronavirus patients.
“Small molecules are the bedrock of the pharmaceutical industry. Remdesivir, an RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RdRp) inhibitor, has in vitro and in vivo activity against the RdRp protein of many RNA viruses, including coronaviruses….”
After getting into several pages of discussion and details on how he will proceed, as well as providing illustrations, Shkreli goes on to state his personal views:
“The industry response to COVID-19 is inadequate. All biopharmaceutical companies should be responding with all resources to combat this health emergency. Donations from these very valuable companies do not go far enough.
“The biopharmaceutical industry has a large brain trust of talent that is not working on this problem as companies have deprioritized or even abandoned infectious disease research.
“Medicinal chemists, structural biologists, enzymologists and assay development and research biology departments at EVERY pharmaceutical company should be put to work until COVID-19 is no more.
“I am asking for a brief furlough (3 months) to assist in research work on COVID-19. Being released to the post-COVID world is no solace to even the incarcerated. As a successful two-time biopharma entrepreneur, having purchased multiple companies, invented multiple new drug candidates, filed numerous INDs and clinical trial applications, I am one of the few executives experienced in ALL aspects of drug development from molecule creation and hypothesis generation, to preclinical assessments and clinical trial design/target engagement demonstration, and manufacturing/synthesis and global logistics and deployment of medicines.
“For the avoidance of doubt, I have not been paid for any work on this matter or any other matter while incarcerated. I do not expect to profit in any way, shape or form from coronavirus-related treatments. I believe 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. If the government is willing to reward industry for their work on this catastrophic situation, it will be at each company’s discretion to accept, negotiate or deny such funding, including bulk purchases, cost reimbursement, tax credits and other benefits.”
Shkreli’s attorney is Ben Brafman who says he plans to submit papers “shortly” to both the Bureau of Prisons and Brooklyn federal Judge Kiyo Matsumoto, who oversaw his case, to free Shkreli so he can get to work on finding a cure for the pandemic-causing virus.
“I have often said that left to his own devices, I believe Martin could cure cancer,” Brafman told The New York Post. “Feel the same about coronavirus. Warehousing this genius instead of letting him help with the research, makes no sense whatsoever.”
It remains to be seen whether the Bureau of Prisons or the judge feel the same about this genius and will recommend his release.
Recently, Attorney General William Barr advised the Bureau of Prisons to temporarily release as many non-dangerous prisoners as possible to help stem the spread of coronavirus in prisons.
Is Shkreli Dangerous?
Shkreli’s scheme, that landed him in prison, started when he began luring financiers into investing in his hedge fund, MSMB Capitol, telling them it was valued at $100 million when it was actually worthless.
He rolled investors money through a series of entities, getting more investors, as he lost money in bad trades, and funneled money into his pharmaceuticals company, Retrophin.
As investors started demanding their money back, Shkreli paid them off with Retrophin funds. After Shkreli was kicked out of Retrophin, he created Turing where he, desperate for money, acquired the monopoly rights to and raised the price of Daraprim from $13.50 to $750-a-pill.
He had been operating mainly under the radar but this stupid move made him infamous since many seriously ill people depended on the life-saving medicine which now went up in cost 4,000 percent in a single day.
From relative obscurity, he became almost overnight “the most hated man in America” .
Two years later, Shkreli, 36, was convicted of unrelated securities fraud, though there is little doubt that his notoriety helped fuel interest in the feds for prosecuting him.
When Brooklyn federal Judge Kiyo Matsumoto handed down his sentence of seven years [prosecutors wanted 15 years, his attorneys argued for 18 months], Shkreli broke down in tears.
“I was never motivated by money. I was trying to grow my stature and reputation,” he blubbered before a packed courtroom, and a clerk passed him a box of tissues. “The only person to blame for me being here today is me. There is no conspiracy to take down Martin Shkreli. I took down Martin Shkreli with my disgraceful and shameful actions. This is my fault. I’m not a victim here, I am the defendant.”
In addition to his prison sentence, Shkreli must undergo mental health treatment and perform community service. The feds also seized $7.4 million of his ill-gotten gains.
The eccentric Shkreli had been on bail prior to his trial but it was revoked after he publicly offered a $5,000 bounty for a strand of Hillary Clinton’s hair.
When he was a free man, he would sometimes come into the office with bunny slippers and a stethoscope.
Today he claims he is one of “the few executives experienced in ALL aspects of drug development” and he should be released for 90 days to try to help save society.
The timing could not be better for Shkreli, who is presently on lockdown at Allentown. If he got out – 90 days away from prison and the unusually tight and draconian strictures in prison – it would be a blessed relief for Pharma Bro.
On the other hand, maybe there is a chance, however small, that he could come up with some valuable research in the pandemic fight.
Since he is unlikely to flee, what exactly is the harm?