Wednesday night, pharmaceuticals businessman Martin Shkreli joined one of the University of Chicago’s Facebook pages for memes, UChicago Memes for Theoretical Midwest Teens, and answered UChicago students’ questions about his social life, motivations for price hiking, and his choice to work in pharmaceuticals at all.
Shkreli made national news last year when his company, Turing Pharmaceuticals, bought the rights to Daraprim, a 62-year-old drug used to treat the potentially life-threatening condition of toxoplasmosis. Turing immediately raised the price of Daraprim by 5600 percent, from $13.50 to $750 per pill. The national outcry even provoked responses from presidential candidates including Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, and Donald Trump.
Using a Facebook account he has previously used for Facebook livestreams, Shkreli started posting in the page Tuesday evening using, introducing himself and “trolling” with posts like “Ne1 tryna buy n snoke wed with ur boy.”
UChicago students mocked Shkreli in return with memes of their own, emphasizing the drug price hike as well as his arrest for fraud charges. He then set up a phone number and YouTube livestream for students to watch him take calls from other students, mostly from UChicago.
One student asked Shkreli why he, a nationally known businessman currently undergoing a criminal investigation, was spending the night talking to students from UChicago’s meme page. Shkreli said he is often added to meme pages, and that when he has time, “Quite often I find them fun and fascinating...I’m having fun now.”
When contacted by The Maroon through Facebook, the creator of UChicago Memes for Theoretical Midwest Teens, Lorenzo Bartolini, explained he had invited Shkreli. “It's been in my master plan to make Midwest Memes the premier page of UChicago.” Since yesterday, the page has grown by over 300 members.
Bartolini responded to the complaints some people posted about Shkreli being allowed in the group after his actions in the drug price hike.
“In sum, UChicago is receptive to Shkreli's kind (his kind being anyone who has exploited capitalism to its fullest extent) and at the end of the day, it's a meme group. Memes reflect social trends and who am I to moderate those trends?”
Many of the student questions Shkreli fielded were personal. Topics ranged from his favorite book, Euclid’s The Elements, to his views on love, where he described himself as jaded but still dating, and declared “true love is a meme.” He exchanged rap artist recommendations with one student, discussing Rich Chigga, the student’s suggestion, and Chedda da Connect, Shkreli’s recommendation. He also revealed his idea for a good rapper name, Crillz.
Many students did ask about the drug price hike. Shkreli argued that his actions did not hurt people saying, “I don’t know how anybody could sleep at night denying somebody the drug they needed.”
He said that he believed keeping the price low would reduce the incentive for companies to research better treatments for toxoplasmosis, and risked having no company producing the drug at all, since it was unprofitable.
“Making a drug doesn’t a require a walk-a-thon, or a smile on your friends face, or for you to like me...it requires 50, 100, 200 million dollars and someone like me who has to the balls to say they’re willing to make enough money to save a life.”
Shkreli described his life goal as to “set the record” for developing the most drugs to treat rare diseases, and told a story that exemplified his motivation for this.
“I have a friend that's dying of muscular dystrophy. His name is Charlie Seckler and I keep his photo near me because it reminds me of the work I’m doing.... I spent 20 million dollars failing to discover a drug for Charlie...it’s almost certain Charlie will die of muscular dystrophy. And I don’t really care about you...or anyone else. I care about people like Charlie.”