John Kapoor, the Billionaire Pain Hustler

The Indian American’s drug company pushed its fentanyl spray at any cost. But did jailing him change anything?

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Insys Therapeutics founder John N. Kapoor leaves federal court in Boston on March 13, 2019 (Pat Greenhouse/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Snigdha Sur


November 1, 2023

Like many Indian immigrants of a certain generation, John Kapoor allegedly came to the United States with only $5 in his pocket. The young man from Lahore and then Bombay — whose family lost everything during Partition — had arrived in 1972 to get a Ph.D. in  medicinal chemistry at the State University of New York, Buffalo. He had been a precocious child, the first college graduate in his family, and it was only natural for him to seek more education outside his homeland.

In America, Kapoor soon fulfilled the “American dream,” making his fortune by being the first out with a generic drug as soon as a branded medication’s patent expired. In 1981, he put in $50,000 — and convinced other investors to put in millions — to purchase what many thought was a struggling generic drugs business, only to flip it for a nearly $1 billion sale by 1990, pocketing roughly $100 million in the process. 

He was only in his late 40s and already a multimillionaire. After making it, Kapoor gave generously, adopted four children, and invested in other businesses. Most entrepreneurs would have called it a day, enjoying their semi-retirement. To date, it’s unclear what motivated Kapoor to go for more. By 2002, he would put $1 million into a new pharma company called Insys. Over at least the next 15 years, he would pour in over $60 million and much of his time. This latest venture, however, would cost him and patients dearly, while making those around him far richer than they could have imagined. But is his story a cautionary tale? Or something else?

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