Business & Tech

At UMass Boston, Shkreli says he hopes people can get to know him

FILE - In this Feb. 4, 2016 file photo, Pharmaceutical chief Martin Shkreli smiles on Capitol Hill in Washington during the House Committee on Oversight and Reform Committee hearing on his former company's decision to raise the price of a lifesaving medicine. Twitter cited harassment when asked Jan. 9, 2017, why Shkreli's account had been suspended from the platform. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

Susan Walsh/AP

Martin Shkreli during a 2016 appearance in Washington, D.C., before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.

Martin Shkreli, who became a pariah after the drug company he once ran raised the price of a medicine by 5,000 percent overnight, gave a long-winded defense of his record in an appearance at UMass Boston on Thursday, pointing the finger at pharmaceutical executives whose pricing practices, he said, were even more outrageous.

Shkreli’s talk was largely uneventful, despite a small group of protesters that greeted his arrival on the campus. One person was escorted out of the classroom where he spoke — calling Shkreli a “murderer” in the process — after loudly clashing with him over drug price increases.

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“I just hope you guys get a chance to know me a little bit better,” Shkreli told an audience of about 100. “I think the average drug CEO is the person that you want to hate.”

Shkreli, former chief executive of Turing Pharmaceuticals, became widely reviled in 2015 after Turing purchased the rights to a decades-old anti-infection drug called Daraprim and raised the per-pill price from $13.50 to $750.

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Shkreli on Thursday defended the decision by saying Turing gave away most of its Daraprim to poor patients. He also said the price increase would allow Turing to bankroll research into new treatments. But doctors, patient groups, and policy makers sharply criticized the move.

Turing is just one of several high-profile examples of pharmaceutical companies dramatically raising the price of treatments that have been on the market for years. But Shkreli’s perceived arrogance, images of him smirking, and rambling online streaming sessions made him a prime target of drug industry critic and earned him the nickname “Pharma Bro.”

President Donald Trump also has taken aim at drug prices, saying that pharma companies have been “getting away with murder.”

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Thursday’s appearance, sponsored by a libertarian student group called Young Americans for Liberty, was his second speaking engagement in the Boston area this week. Shkreli spoke at Harvard University Wednesday, drawing protests.

Shkreli is free on $5 million bail while awaiting trial on alleged securities fraud charges unrelated to Turing. He resigned from Turing in late 2015 after his arrest, and has pleaded not guilty. His trip to Boston was approved last week by a federal judge, who must grant permission for him to travel long distances.

At UMass, Shkreli said he thought his prosecution was politically motivated, noting that the charges only emerged after the Daraprim controversy. He also made light of his villainous profile, saying he’s been “trolling on the Internet” since he was 12 years old.

He painted his pricing practices as minor-league, repeatedly displaying a spreadsheet of drugs from other companies that are far more expensive than Daraprim.

The pharmaceutical industry has sought to distance itself from Shkreli and similar drug-price controversies, launching an advertising campaign celebrating the scientific discovery that leads to lifesaving drugs.

Although he criticized other executives, Shkreli defended the pharmaceutical industry for seeking to find cures for deadly diseases. “The idea that I’ve hurt the reputation of my industry pains me, and that’s part of why I’m here today,” he said.

Before his appearance — which he said was not paid — about 50 protesters shook pill bottles filled with coins, chanting “Shame on Shkreli.” Among them was Wendy Schoener, a UMass lecturer, who held a sign saying “Bring in the Capitalist Clowns.”

“I think this is probably going to be one of many, many awful right-wing, and white supremacist even, people who are going to be coming to college campuses,” she said. “We have to make a good show of rejecting them.”

Curt Woodward can be reached at curt.woodward@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @curtwoodward.
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