Martin Shkreli increased the price of the antiparasitic drug Daraprim (pyrimethamine) by more than 5,000 percent after buying Turing Pharmaceuticals, raising it from $13.50 to $ 750 per tablet. High school students in Australia have produced the same drug for just $2.
Drug For Malaria And Toxoplasmosis
Daraprim is a 62-year-old drug included in the World Health Organization's list of essential medicines. It is used to treat certain types of malaria and toxoplasmosis, a rare and potentially fatal infection caused by the Toxoplasma gondii parasite, which affects individuals with a weakened immune system such as those with HIV.
Shkreli raised the price of this drug in September 2015, a move that received backlash from the public.
Replicating Daraprim In School Lab
A group of 11 16- and 17-year-old high school students from Sydney Grammar School in Australia have shown how exorbitant the pricing of the life-saving drug was by recreating Daraprim in their school lab at a cost of only about $2 per dose.
The students have been attempting to synthesize pyrimethamine as part of an after-school chemistry program ever since the price hike for Darprim was announced last year.
Patented Method Of Producing Active Ingredient Too Dangerous For A School Lab
To make pyrimethamine, Daraprim's active ingredient, the students started out by using 17 grams (0.60 ounces) of (4-chlorophenyl) acetonitrile, which costs $36.50 for 100 grams (3.53 ounces).
The patented method of manufacturing pyrimethamine from raw ingredients, however, was too dangerous for the school's chem lab so the students sought an alternative and safer way to create the drug and eventually synthesized 3.7 grams (0.13 ounces) of pyrimethamine.
"They've really gone and done it," University of Sydney chemist Alice Williamson said. "They've made a very pure sample of the medicine too, which is a challenge."
Williamson worked with the students through the online research-sharing platform Open Source Malaria, which aims to use publicly available medical techniques and drugs to treat mosquito-borne malaria.
She added that the amount of pyrimethamine produced by the students is about $110,000 worth of Daraprim based on the price mark-up of Shkreli's pharmaceutical company.
"If you follow his overpriced method using toxic chemicals in an industrial lab it's easy," said Leonard Milan, one of the students. "But the fact that we were able to substitute some really toxic gasses with simple school-available chemicals and do it so cheaply demonstrates the absurdity of some of his justifications for the price."
The students presented the results of their work at the Royal Australian Chemical Institute NSW Organic Chemistry symposium on Wednesday, Nov. 30.