The Skhreli spectacle continues at House hearing

Martin Skhreli continues to make headlines and garner contempt. The hedge fund manager turned pharma executive who is notorious for raising a drug’s price 5000 percent overnight, was an unresponsive witness at a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing last week.

The hearing was set to discuss methods and reasoning behind recent drug price increases as well as the potential problems with speedy generic drug approval. In advance of the hearing, Skhreli mocked the process and hinted on Twitter that he may not show up at the hearing despite being subpoenaed. He did attend but invoked his Fifth Amendment right and refused to answer questions, all the while smirking and acting uninterested in the proceedings.

Skhreli, who is no longer Turing’s CEO but maintains a stake in the company, was eventually dismissed from the hearing, but not before getting an earful from several House members.

“This is a great opportunity if you want to educate the members of Congress about drug pricing,” said Representative Trey Gowdy (R-SC), referring to the fact that Skhreli had made previous public statements about his desire to “school” Congress about drug prices.

Ranking Democrat Elijah Cummings (D-MD), who has long been working to address drug prices and known for his impassioned statements, took a surprisingly measured tone when addressing Skhreli, “I want to ask you—no, I want to plead with you—to use any remaining influence you have over your former company to press them to lower the prices of these drugs,” said Cummings.

Soon after Rep. Cummings addressed him, Skhreli was dismissed from the hearing but minutes later he Tweeted: “Hard to accept that these imbeciles represent the people in our government.”

Turing’s Chief Commercial Officer Nancy Retzlaff defended Daraprim’s price increase, claiming that if someone needs the drug and cannot afford it, Turing has generous programs to help. She was the subject of heated questioning from Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) when she testified the company was operating at a loss.

“The proper role of Congress is not to manage a private company. It’s not my role. And I do believe in the right to profit. I think profit is a motivator that does a lot of good… I also believe that it’s imperative that people tell the truth that they’re ethical, that they not mislead the public…” Chaffetz said.

“Are really testifying that you’re losing money?” he asked Retzlaff incredulously, pointing to company documents showing Turing had spent over $23,000 on a party and that several executives had recently received huge raises. “You’re not losing money, you’re raking it in hand over fist as fast as you can.”

Also appearing before the lawmakers were Turing’s chief commercial officer, the interim CEO of Valeant Pharmaceuticals, president and CEO of the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association and the director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. A recording of the hearing is available here.