Martin Shkreli: Free me from prison and I’ll cure coronavirus

Martin Shkreli: Free me from prison and I’ll cure coronavirus
Screenshot from a Martin Shkreli Youtube video

The whole world is waiting for the vaccine that can prevent the coronavirus, and almost all medical agencies around the globe are working to come up with one as fast as possible. We have had no success so far even though tests are underway. If a pharmaceutical expert is to be believed, then the ongoing efforts to find a COVID-19 cure are “inadequate.” Moreover, he claims that he could help find a cure for the coronavirus — provided that he is released from prison.

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Prison release in exchange for COVID-19 cure

The person making such claims is none other than Martin Shkreli, a former drug company CEO. Shkreli, who is also known as “Pharma Bro,” wants to get out of prison so that he can help research treatments for COVID-19, his lawyer, Ben Brafman, said yesterday.

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Brafman said he would officially ask federal authorities to let Shkreli out of jail for three months. During these three months, he will do laboratory work “under strict supervision,” the lawyer said.

“I have always said that if focused and left in a lab, Martin could help cure cancer,” Brafman said in a statement. “Maybe he can help the scientific community better understand this terrible virus.”

Shkreli, who also feels that he could help with a coronavirus vaccine, recently posted an 11-page proposal online. In the research paper, Shkreli described the efforts of the pharmaceutical industry in finding a coronavirus cure as “inadequate." Further, he said researchers at pharmaceutical companies “should be put to work until COVID-19 is no more.”

Shkreli notes that his massive experience in the pharmaceutical industry, including “a successful two-time biopharma entrepreneur, having purchased multiple companies, [and] invented multiple new drug candidates” makes him an eligible contender for the job.

“I am one of the few executives experienced in ALL aspects of drug development,” he said. “I do not expect to profit in any way, shape or form from coronavirus-related treatments.”

Assuring officials that getting out of prison is not his sole objective, Shkreli notes that temporary freedom is not something he desires.

“Being released to the post-COVID world is no solace to even the incarcerated,” he says.

Martin Shkreli: genius or fraud?

Martin Shkreli, 37, was sentenced to seven years in prison in 2018. He was charged with lying to investors about the performance of two hedge funds he was responsible for, taking out more money from these hedge funds than he was entitled to, and duping investors by hiding his stock ownership in a drug company called Retrophin.

Additionally, Prospero Pharma, a company Shkreli co-founded in 2015, was believed to have been formed with the sole objective to undercut Retrophin, which fired Shkreli.

Shkreli first came into the limelight in 2017 when he secured the rights to a lifesaving drug at another company. Later, he reportedly raised the price of the drug from $13.50 to $750 per pill. He once also offered a bounty to anyone who could get him a piece of Hillary Clinton’s hair.

Shkreli’s document was published by Prospero Pharmaceuticals. It is a biotech company co-founded by Shkreli and Kevin Mulleady, the second author on the document. The paper talks about eight existing drugs that could help treat COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

A medicinal chemist and a popular pharmaceutical industry blogger told biotech news outlet Stat that Shkreli’s plan is “not crazy” but is not “particularly groundbreaking, either, at least to my eyes.”

In addition to Shkreli and Mulleady, the document list two “citizen scientists,” Maureen Lohry and James Rondina. In 2017, they wrote letters to authorities requesting leniency when Shkreli was convicted. Previously, both worked at companies founded by him.

Race to find a COVID-19 cure

In the search for a coronavirus cure, the second potential COVID-19 vaccine has now entered Phase 1 clinical human testing. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the application from Inovio Pharmaceuticals.

“This is a significant step forward in the global fight against COVID-19,” INOVIO President and CEO Dr. J. Joseph Kim said in a statement. INOVIO, backed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is capable of producing a million doses of the vaccine by the year's end, provided the trials are successful.

The first potential COVID-19 vaccine entered the human testing phase in mid-March with 45 young, healthy volunteers. Testing is taking place at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is funding that trial. The drug that may prevent the coronavirus is co-developed by NIH and Moderna.

According to The Wall Street Journal, more than 140 experimental drug treatments and vaccines for the deadly virus are in the development stage. Of these 140 vaccines, 11 have already entered clinical trials.

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