Like most politicians, Mayor Rahm Emanuel rightly loves to promote high-technology companies and revel in their successes.
And like many business leaders, the entrepreneurs of the new economy support Emanuel, often generously.
But what do the mayor and other politicians have to say when one of the Chicago tech scene’s brightest stars is accused of trying to exploit the marketplace?
Emanuel supporter Jeffrey Aronin’s Northbrook-based Marathon Pharmaceuticals has drawn heavy criticism after listing an annual dosage of a new muscular dystrophy drug at $89,000.
Aronin contributed to both of Emanuel’s mayoral bids, in 2011 and 2015, writing checks for a total of $26,500, according to campaign-finance disclosure reports.
An online bio at jeffreyaronin.com extensively detailed the relationship between the mayor and the mogul, who lives in Highland Park.
“Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel appointed him to co-chair ChicagoNEXT, where he works to increase the region’s profile and promote business opportunities as chair of the organization’s BioScience Committee,” the bio said. “In that capacity, he was asked by Mayor Emanuel to spearhead development of the health technology startup center MATTER.”
The criticism of Aronin and Marathon is the latest in a series of controversies over what drug companies are trying to charge for their products.
In 2015, hedge-fund manager Martin Shkreli hiked the price of a drug by 5,000 percent. He was dubbed “America’s most hated man” for that move and later charged with securities fraud.
The eye-popping price Marathon wants to charge for its new deflazacort drug represents a 6,000 percent mark-up from what patients are paying for the steroid in Europe or Canada, Forbes magazine reported.
“The price is absurd,” wrote Forbes’ Matthew Herper on Feb. 10. “Pharmaceutical company executive, here is your problem: ‘You won’t get credit for the wonderful innovations your companies produce if your prices make people sick.’”
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., and U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., sent a letter to Aronin slamming his company’s “outrageous plans” and launched an investigation, demanding proof of what it actually had cost to bring the drug to market in this country.
Marathon has called a “pause” on its rollout of deflazacort. Asked about the status of the issue this week, a Marathon spokeswoman said only, “We are focused on providing access to this important drug to every young patient who needs it.”
The spokeswoman would not say whether Emanuel or any other local politicians with ties to Aronin have contacted him about the deflazacort controversy.
And the mayor’s spokesman did not reply to requests for comment.
Emanuel is far from the only Illinois elected official with ties to Aronin.
Before he became governor, Bruce Rauner’s private-equity firm invested heavily in another Aronin company, Ovation Pharmaceuticals of Deerfield.
Ovation also faced charges of inflating the prices of its products. At the time, Aronin replied that it costs huge sums for his company to develop and market its products.
Ovation was sold to another company for $900 million in 2009.
Aronin is a prominent member of the local business community, with roles in World Business Chicago, the Economic Club of Chicago and the Commercial Club of Chicago, according to his online bio.
Although Emanuel is by far the biggest recipient of the CEO’s campaign contributions, Aronin and Marathon’s political-action committee also give to a long list of Illinois politicians, including Rauner, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly and state Comptroller Susana Mendoza.
With Aronin as co-chairman, the MATTER incubator, located in the Merchandise Mart, has benefitted from state grants and loans.
A gaggle of political luminaries flocked to the opening of MATTER two years ago. Emanuel joked that the event was so crowded he feared he would be pushed off the stage.
Illinois taxpayers surely must hope that the return on their investment in MATTER comes in the form of new companies as successful as Aronin’s ventures.
Let’s also hope that the politicians close to Aronin can use their influence to make sure the fruits of any such success are not beyond the grasp of the people they’re supposed to help.Tweets by @dmihalopoulos