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'Pharma Bro' Martin Shkreli Refuses to Testify at Congressional Panel

The former drug executive who raised the price of a lifesaving medicine by 5,000 percent invoked the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in response to lawmakers' questions about price spikes.

by VICE News and Reuters
Feb 4 2016, 3:00pm

Image via CSPAN

Martin Shkreli, the former drug executive who raised the price of a lifesaving medicine by 5,000 percent, has invoked the Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination at a congressional hearing this morning, refusing to answer lawmakers' questions about price spikes.  Watch the session here.

At a hearing of the US House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Shkreli sat at a table with arms crossed and repeatedly declined to answer questions about the effects of the price hike on patients.

"I intend to follow the advice of my counsel, not yours," Shkreli told Rep. Trey Gowdy, a South Carolina Republican.

Shkreli, 32, sparked outrage last year among patients and medical societies after his company Turing Pharmaceuticals raised the price of 62-year-old Daraprim to $750 a pill from $13.50.

The medicine, used to treat a parasitic infection, once sold for $1 a pill.

Later, Shkreli took to Twitter to offer his opinion of the hearing. 

During the hearing, US Representative Elijah Cummings reprimanded Shkreli for appearing to laugh during the Maryland Democrat's opening statement. "It's not funny, Mr. Shkreli," Cummings said.

Wearing a sports jacket and collared shirt with no tie, Shkreli responded to questions by continuing to laugh, twirling a pencil and yawning.

Cummings added a few minutes later: "You can go down as the poster boy for greedy drug company executives, or you can change the system."

Shkreli was allowed to leave the hearing early after he repeated that he would not answer any questions at all.

Representative John Mica, a Florida Republican, said he would consider asking fellow lawmakers to hold Shkreli in contempt for his behavior.

"I don't think I've ever seen the committee treated with such contempt," Mica said.

For weeks, Shkreli battled with lawmakers. He insisted that if called to appear, he would invoke the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and remain silent. Lawmakers said his testimony was essential to investigating why drug prices had risen and that if he chose not to answer questions, he must do so in person.

Related: Hated 'Pharma Bro' Martin Shkreli's Former Pharmaceutical Company Files for Bankruptcy

Shkreli's lawyer, Benjamin Brafman said Shkreli would not answer questions because of the unrelated criminal charges that Shkreli defrauded investors.

In December, Shkreli was arrested and charged with running his investment funds and companies almost like a Ponzi scheme. He has pleaded not guilty, stepped down from Turing and was fired from KaloBios Pharmaceuticals Inc. He is also a former head of Retrophin Inc, which sued him, alleging mismanagement.

The Federal Trade Commission and the New York attorney general are investigating Turing for possible antitrust violations.

Other expected witnesses on Thursday include Turing Chief Commercial Officer Nancy Retzlaff and Valiant Pharmaceutical, interim Chief Executive Howard Schiller.

Related: Hated 'Pharma Bro' Martin Shkreli Arrested on Fraud Charges

Retzlaff said in written testimony released by the committee that Turing discounted the price of Daraprim to hospitals by 50 percent in November after consulting with patient groups. She added that Turing reinvests much of its income in research and had 13 projects in its pipeline as of December.

Schiller said in written testimony that Valeant has tried to keep drugs affordable through volume-based rebates and a partnership with Walgreens.

He also wrote that patients were best served when prices reflected the market: "When these drugs are priced to reflect more closely their true clinical value, the more accurate price signals incentivize generic competition and innovation."