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School kids recreate Pharma Bro’s $750 AIDS drug for just $1

Joseph McCormick December 2, 2016
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A group of school kids from Australia have managed to recreate the active ingredient in a drug which was price-gouged by ‘Pharma Bro’ Martin Shkreli.

Shkreli became wildly unpopular last year when his company bought the rights to Daraprim, which is used to treat toxoplasmosis.

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Toxoplasmosis is a parasitic infection which can cause problems for those with weakened immune systems, such as those with AIDS-related illnesses.

The company increased the price per pill of the drug from $13.50 per pill by 5,000 percent to $750 per pill.

Treatment of toxoplasmosis using the pill requires a course of 100 pills.

But some year 11 students froM Sydney Grammar school have recreated the active ingredient in Daraprim for around $1.50 (AUD$2).

Dr Allice Williamson, a postdoctoral teaching fellow said the point of the exercise was to prove how unjustifiable the price increase is, when school students can recreate the drug.

The students were supported by the University of Sydney and members of the Open Source Malaria consortium.

The project was for Breaking good – a schools programme from Open Source Malaria.

Dr Williamson told the Guardian Australia: “I thought if we could show that students could make it in the lab with no real training, we could really show how ridiculous this price hike was and that there was no way it could be justified.”

The students avoided the patented method of making the drug, but worked with Dr Malcolm Binns to find a new method.

Dr Williamson said she was surprised by the purity of the drug.

“It’s one of the most beautiful spectrographs I’ve ever seen, actually,” she told the Sydney Morning Herald.

“From the 17 grams starting material, the boys produced 3.7 grams of pyrimethamine, the chemical name of Daraprim. That’s about $110,000 worth of the drug,” Dr Williams said.

The $110,000 is based on the Turing Pharmaeceuticals price hike, but the students would be unable to sell it in the US. In australia, fifty tablets of 25 milligrams of daraprim would cost AUD$12.99.

“While the drug is out of patent, Turing Pharmaceuticals controls its distribution and sale through a loophole called the ‘closed distribution model’,” said Professor Todd.

“To take the drug to market as a generic, you need to compare it to Turing’s product. If Turing won’t allow the comparisons to take place, you’d need to fund a whole new trial,” he adds.

Shkreli responded on Twitter to say he did not think the students were competition.

“We should congratulate these students for their interest in chemistry and I’ll be excited for what is to come in this STEM-focused 21st century.”

He later tweeted: “And never, ever compare your cook game to mine. Highest yield, best purity, most scale. I have the synthesis game on lock.”

Related topics: AIDS, daraprim, HIV, Martin Shkreli, US

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