- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 4, 2016

Martin Shkreli, the so-called “Pharma bro,” enraged members of Congress Thursday by refusing to say why he jacked up the price of a decades-old drug more than fiftyfold, repeatedly invoking his Fifth Amendment right to silence — then mocking lawmakers later.

The House Oversight Committee forced the former CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, who faces an unrelated indictment on securities fraud charges, to invoke his rights against self-incrimination four times before excusing him from the hearing.

“On the advice of counsel, I invoke my Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination, and respectfully decline to answer your question,” he told committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, Utah Republican.

Later Thursday, Mr. Shkreli called the lawmakers “imbeciles” on social media.

Mr. Chaffetz said he invited Mr. Shkreli and several others from the pharmaceutical industry because drug costs are skyrocketing. Thirty of the top-selling U.S. drugs increased 76 percent in price between 2010 and 2014, or eight times the general inflation rate, and internal memos show that companies routinely put profits before patients, according to the committee.

“I call this money ‘blood money,’” said ranking member Elijah Cummings, Maryland Democrat.

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Mr. Shkreli and Turing landed in the spotlight in September, when they decided to hike the price of an anti-parasitic drug, Daraphrim, from $13.50 per pill to $750. It is the only FDA-approved treatment for a condition that affects HIV patients and other people with weakened immune systems.

The backlash forced Turing to discount the drug for hospitals and take steps to make it affordable for patients, though the company’s defenders said Mr. Shkreli had made a business decision that is common in the pharmaceutical world.

Mr. Shkreli’s lawyers had warned lawmakers that his D.C. visit would be a waste of time, since he wouldn’t answer their questions.

A grand jury charged him in December with lying to hedge fund investors and misusing funds from Retrophin, a publicly traded company he founded in 2011, to cover his tracks. Federal and state agencies are also probing whether Turing violated antitrust laws.

Mr. Shkreli resigned as Turing CEO one day after his arrest.

On Thursday, the 32-year-old’s snarky demeanor plucked a discordant note with House investigators, who chided him for smiling at the wrong times and failing to make eye contact. They needled him over his penchant for streaming video chats and his $2 million purchase of the Wu-Tang rap collective’s latest album, of which there is only one copy.

At one point Rep. Trey Gowdy, South Carolina Republican, just wanted to know how to pronounce Mr. Shkreli’s name. When he helped the congressman out, Mr. Gowdy said: “See there, you can answer some questions.”

“I intend to follow the advice of my counsel — not yours,” Mr. Shkreli said.

Once it was clear that Mr. Shkreli would not answer questions, the former executive was excused and followed by a stream of news cameras.

“Hard to accept that these imbeciles represent the people in our government,” Mr. Shkreli said on Twitter, just minutes after he left the hearing.

Nancy Retzlaff, chief commercial officer for Turing, remained in the hearing room, where she tried to explain the company’s efforts to make their primary drug more affordable for patients, hospitals and government programs.

“To our knowledge, no patient needs to pay $750 per pill for Daraphrim,” she testified.

The committee accused the FDA of failing to clear its backlog of applications to produce cheaper, generic versions of brand-name drugs, and they blasted a second company, Valeant Pharmaceutical International, for jacking up the price of its heart drug, Isuprel, and other products.

“Our price increases in the future will be well within industry norms and much more modest than the ones that drew your legitimate concerns,” Valeant interim CEO Howard B. Schiller testified.

Mr. Cummings compared some the industry’s financial practices to a “Ponzi scheme,” a shot at Mr. Shkreli’s legal troubles that elicited a wry grin from the star witness.

“It’s not funny, Mr. Shkreli, people are dying,” Mr. Cummings said.

Outside the hearing, Mr. Shkreli’s lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, told reporters that the former executive meant no disrespect, and “what you saw was nervous energy by an individual who’d very much like to explain what happened but has agreed to listen to his lawyer.”

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