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Moffitt Cancer Center suspends drug study linked to arrested pharmaceuticals executive

Martin Shkreli was recently fired from KaloBios, his latest venture.
Martin Shkreli was recently fired from KaloBios, his latest venture.
Published Dec. 23, 2015

Tampa's Moffitt Cancer Center is suspending a clinical trial sponsored by KaloBios Pharmaceuticals, a California biotechnology company that was run by entrepreneur Martin Shkreli until his arrest last week on fraud charges.

The trial, which sought to develop a new treatment for leukemia, hadn't started yet, Moffitt spokesman Steven Blanchard said Tuesday.

"We are waiting to see what happens with the investigation before we decide whether to move forward with it," Blanchard said. "It's on hold."

Shkreli, 32, was arrested Thursday on accusations of running a Ponzi-like scheme and using money from his first biopharmaceutical company, Retrophin, to pay off defrauded investors.

He pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Before his arrest, Shkreli made headlines when another one of his companies, Turing Pharmaceuticals, hiked the price of a drug called Daraprim from $13.50 to $750 per pill. The medicine is used to treat a parasitic disease that mostly affects pregnant women and cancer patients.

Shkreli rebuffed the criticism. He cemented his reputation as the industry's bad boy by calling himself "the world's most eligible bachelor" on Twitter and announcing his plans to dominate rap music.

KaloBios was his latest venture. He became CEO last month, but has since been terminated from the company.

The struggling cancer drug developer launched the clinical trial for patients with chronic myelomonocytic leukemia, a type of cancer that starts in the bone marrow and spreads to the blood.

Blanchard said Moffitt's decision to put the study on hold was "completely related to the charges against (Shkreli)."

"There's nothing wrong with the drug," he added.

Moffitt hadn't recruited any patients to be a part of the trial yet.

The hospital was seeking about 15 participants.

Several other hospitals were planning to participate in the trial, including the University of Miami Sylvester Cancer Center, the Mayo Clinic Cancer Center and the Cleveland Clinic, according to the National Institutes of Health.

At least one other hospital, the University of California Davis Health System, has decided to suspend its participation, spokeswoman Dorsey Griffith said.

The University of Miami is "in the process of deciding how to move forward," spokesman Patrick Bartosch said, adding that the university hadn't yet recruited any participants.

"A final decision has not been made," he said.

Information from the Associated Press was included in this report. Contact Kathleen McGrory at kmcgrory@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8330. Follow @kmcgrory.