Controversial pharma CEO Martin Shkreli plans image rehab

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By Lawrence Delevingne NEW YORK (Reuters) - Martin Shkreli, the boyish-looking 32-year founder of two drug companies criticized by Hillary Clinton and mocked on Saturday Night Live, wants to rehabilitate his image. "Yes, we have a plan. Very expensive, well articulated," Shkreli said when asked about improving his public perception in an interview with Activist Shorts Research founder Adam Kommel. "Every media advisor is on our payroll," he added. Details of the Oct. 6 interview were in a private quarterly report by Activist Shorts Research provided to Reuters. Shkreli, the founder and chief executive officer of upstart Turing Pharmaceuticals, was vilified on social media and became the symbol for price gouging after his company raised the price of a recently-purchased AIDS and cancer drug, Daraprim, from $13.50 to $750 a tablet (He later said he would lower the price an unspecified amount). He aggressively defended the price hike in interviews and on social media, saying Turing would help needy patients pay, that the new price was still below comparable medicines, and that the profits would go to developing a better drug. "It seems like the media immediately points a finger at me," Shkreli tweeted on Sept. 20, quoting lyrics by rapper Eminem. "So I point one back at em, but not the index or pinkie." Shkreli's new public relations plan doesn't mean he will be changing his combative tactics. "Being true and authentic is important," he also told Kommel on October 6. "If you react to how people act to you, you end up being a ghost of yourself, and that's one of the worst things that could happen. I'm not sure it's going to dramatically change the way I act." Shkreli said it's difficult to predict if politicians will be successful in passing drug price caps, something proposed in the wake of the Daraprim revelation. "The government has limited ability to do anything when it comes to price," he said. "It's up to payers and patients to make their own choices." Shkreli, a former hedge fund manager known for betting against biotech stocks and founder of biotech drug company Retrophin, added in the interview that he still bets for and against companies with his personal capital. Shkreli said he is shorting PTC Therapeutics because he's "very dubious" that its main product for muscular dystrophy will work. He is also long Aegerion, which he called "a very cheap" stock. A spokesman for PTC declined to comment. The Activist Shorts Research noted that Shkreli's 14 known short positions - mostly in 2011 and 2012 - declined significantly, an average of 23.8 percent over the life of the campaign. Shkreli declined further comment to Reuters. (Reporting by Lawrence Delevingne; Editing by Jennifer Ablan and Christian Plumb)

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