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High School Students Recreate $750 HIV Pill for $2

Martin Shkreli takes a slap in the face

A group of Australian high school students has recreated the key ingredients of Daraprim––the toxoplasmosis drug that the infamous Martin Shkreli acquired in 2015 and then jacked up the price of a single pill by 5,000%––for a mere $2, according to a news report from the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). The 11 students, all 17 years of age, were able to synthesize the product’s active ingredient, pyrimethamine, in the school laboratory.

The boys produced 3.7 g of pyrimethamine for $20. In the United States, the same quantity would cost up to $110,000. In most countries, including Australia and Britain, the drug retails for less than $1.50 per pill.

The students set out on their experiment as a means of showing how Daraprim can be produced inexpensively and to underscore the inflated cost of drugs in the U.S. Prior to Shkreli’s acquisition, Daraprim cost about $18 per pill. After the acquisition, the retail price skyrocketed to $750.

Shkreli was arrested in December 2015 on allegations of securities fraud. He subsequently stepped down as the head of Turing Pharmaceuticals. His trial is set for June 26, 2017.

The students posted their laboratory work online with the Open Source Malaria (OSM) group, a project that uses open-source principles to find a cure for malaria. One of the students’ advisers, Alice Williamson, a postdoctoral teaching fellow at the University of Sydney, works with the OSM.

Williamson told the Washington Post that the high costs of drugs are not always justifiable. She said that if high school students can develop the same drug for a small cost, “how can you get away with charging $750 for an essential medicine to so many people who are already vulnerable?” 

Last year, compound drug maker Imprimis Pharmaceuticals offered a compound of pyrimethamine and leucovorin as a low-cost alternative to Daraprim. At the time, Imprimis said its combination treatment would have a price tag of $99 for 100 tablets––slightly less than $1 per pill.

Sources: BBC; December 1, 2016; and BioSpace: December 1, 2016.

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