Jailed pharma exec fined £47m and banned from industry

The man who sent the price of lifesaving drug Daraprim (pyrimethamine) rocketing from $13.50 a tablet to $750 overnight has been ordered to repay $64.6m (£47m).

In 2015, Martin Shkreli, former chief executive of Turing Pharmaceuticals, which is now known as Vyera, obtained the exclusive rights to Daraprim, which is used to treat toxoplasmosis, a parasitic disease that most commonly affects pregnant women and people with Aids, malaria and cancer. Until recently, Daraprim was the only drug available to treat the disease and has been the gold standard treatment for toxoplasmosis for decades.

The disgraced pharmaceutical boss, who is serving seven years for a separate fraud case relating to hedge funds he ran prior to joining Turing, was also banned from the industry for life by New York Attorney General Letitia James.

The case was brought by the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and US states New York, California, Illinois, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia, for Shkreli’s actions that blocked any competition with its key medicine to preserve monopoly profits. The company was slammed for restricting distribution of its drug so generic drug manufacturers couldn’t conduct bioequivalence tests or access a key ingredient used in the drug’s production.

Attorney General James said: “A federal court has not only found that his conduct was illegal, but also banned this convicted criminal from the pharmaceutical industry for life and required him to pay nearly $65 million.

“This is on top of the $40 million we’ve already secured from Vyera. The rich and powerful don’t get to play by their own set of rules, so it seems that cash doesn’t rule everything around Mr Shkreli.”

Toxoplasmosis results from infection with the toxoplasma gondii parasite, one of the world’s most common parasites. It is usually transmitted by eating undercooked contaminated meat, exposure to infected cat faeces, or mother-to-child transmission during pregnancy.
Many people carry the illness but do not exhibit symptoms. However, for those with compromised immune systems and for pregnant women, the disease can be serious and possibly lethal.

In January 2020, Attorney General James and the FTC filed a lawsuit against Vyera, Shkreli, and his business partner Kevin Mulleady for anticompetitive behaviour. Vyera and Mulleady agreed to pay up to $40 million to offset their gains and Mulleady was banned from the pharmaceutical industry for seven years.

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