Martin Shkreli, otherwise known as Pharma Bro, made headlines last year when he upped the price of the HIV drug Daraprim by almost 4,000% in a day.
Knowing this drug was necessary to save many people’s lives, it appeared Shkreli had done this for no other reason than to profit off of other’s desperation, but a group of school boys in Sydney, Australia have found a way to recreate the major ingredient in the drug for only $2.
Alice Williamson, a postdoctoral fellow in chemistry from the University of Sydney, teamed up with a local high school to help oversee science projects.
That’s when she had the idea to see if she could get the boys she was coaching to make the medicine for much cheaper. It would be an exciting project with real world application and consequences.
To start the project, boys at Sydney Grammar School, recreated the active ingredient of Daraprim, pyrimethamine, by ordering 17 grams of 2,4-chlorophenyl acetonitrile to kickstart their project.
This chemical can be purchased online for just $36.50 for 100 grams.
Although the boys had access to the patent method, it involved using reagents that were too dangerous for a high school chemistry lab.
Because of this, the boys had to find a way to recreate the drug using raw ingredients, creating both a financial and physical challenge.
The 16- and 17-year-olds have been working together for the past 12 months in order to recreate the drug’s active ingredient, taking time both before and after school to do so.
Last week, they were finally successful. They created 3.7 grams of pyrimethamine which Williamson confirmed to be worth about $110,000.
While the drug is still available in non-US countries for $1-$2 per pill, it is only available in the United States through Turing Pharmaceuticals, which operates on a closed distribution model.
To be sold in the US at the cheaper rate, Shkreli would have to allow trials to take place to compare it to his own drug.
As it doesn’t seem he’s the benevolent type, anyone attempting to sell a new drug, such as the inexpensive one the high school students created, would need to fund their own study to prove its effectiveness.
This could cost a upwards of a few million dollars. Therefore, it’s unlikely their drug will hit the market any time soon.
However, Williamson says she hopes this experiment can show pharmaceutical companies that the high price tag for the medication is ridiculous.
“How can you get away with charging $750 for an essential medicine to so many people who are already vulnerable?”
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