Vivek Ramaswamy, the Republican presidential candidate who made a fortune in biotech, once was involved in a significant investment in a biotech company run by disgraced investor Martin Shkreli.
Shkreli, the oft-described “pharma bro” who went to prison for four years for committing securities fraud and securities fraud conspiracy after he gained notoriety for dramatically raising the cost of a life-saving antiparasitic drug, said in a YouTube video in mid-April that Ramaswamy was at one point his “biggest investor” and called him “a friend.”
“He basically took our business model and supersized it,” he told the “My First Million” podcast in a little-noticed part of the video. “Who influenced who is a matter that is left to history.”
Shkreli may have overstated matters. The investment, which was made in Shkreli’s first company, Retrophin, came from a hedge fund firm that Ramaswamy worked for at the time in New York City, not from Ramaswamy himself.
Asked for comment, Ramaswamy said that he helped the firm, QVT Financial, “evaluate and invest in hundreds of publicly traded companies.” He noted that Retrophin, which was one of Shkreli’s several companies that worked to find drugs for rare diseases, “was one of them.”
“His strategy at a different company (Turing) of hiking drug prices is shockingly similar to what Big Pharma regularly does,” Ramaswamy added. “Big Pharma just dresses it up in the veneer of ‘do-good stakeholder capitalism,’ and that’s why they get away with it. It’s arguably even more corrupt because it’s less transparent. That’s just the hard truth.” QVT did not respond to a request for comment.
In his book, “Woke, Inc.,” Ramaswamy wrote that Shkreli was “pathologically incapable of telling the truth.” His involvement in the investment provides insight into the worlds Ramaswamy occupied and the characters he mingled with prior to entering the field of elected politics.
The biotech startup space can be cutthroat, and analysts are often forced to make difficult decisions that require balancing social good with the pursuit of profit.
Reached by phone, Shkreli demanded money from POLITICO and its parent company Axel Springer to cooperate.
“I will tell you everything I know. And in exchange, I suppose your company would do something for me,” he said, later adding “The really juicy stuff I know is something that I could potentially sell to the National Enquirer or to monetize that myself.”
When told that POLITICO does not pay for interviews, he said: “I’m just struggling [to understand] what’s in it for me. … I’m gonna need a sweeter deal than that. I have this new software. If you plug that, maybe we got a deal then.”
He then offered money to write a positive story about him, saying, “If I bless your Cash App like five bands [$5,000], will you say some nice shit about me?”
Ramaswamy’s time in the world of business has not been the central component of his pitch to voters. But it has allowed him to fund his run for office. He made several hundred million dollars in biotech before switching his focus to politics, wrote a New York Times-bestselling book on the dangers of “wokeism” and started an asset management firm focused on telling companies it invests in to steer clear of politics and focus on profits instead.
Ramaswamy wrote in “Woke Inc.” that when he first met Shkreli, he found him “brilliant” and that he was “a little envious.” Ramaswamy also criticized prosecutors who went after him, saying that the case was “murky.”
“What was Martin Shkreli really guilty of?” Ramaswamy wrote. “Why did the DOJ go after him so hard, when it lets others quietly get away with much worse? … [W]hom did Shkreli hurt? The people he was convicted for defrauding all ended up richer. The people who used Daraprim didn’t pay more for it; the cost was split up across the whole health insurance system.”
But Ramaswamy didn’t let Shkreli off the hook, either. In an interview, he condemned what Shkreli did in hiking the cost of his old company’s drug and said it was “wrong and hurtful.”
Ramaswamy also criticized Shkreli in the book by saying “he was literally incapable of distinguishing fact from fiction” and even falsely told him that he had attended Columbia University but dropped out to go to Baruch College instead. Ramaswamy called Columbia’s admissions office to check that claim and they told him he hadn’t been admitted.
Asked to respond about the claims regarding Columbia, Shkreli texted a reply: “Why would I use you to respond to Vivek.” He asked, as well, for “that German $$$.”
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