School­boys out­wit ‘most hated man in US’

Malta Independent - - WORLD -

The man who sparked out­rage last year by hik­ing the price of a life-sav­ing drug may have met his match in some Aus­tralian school­boys.

US ex­ec­u­tive Martin Shkreli be­came a sym­bol of greed when he raised the price of a tablet of Dara­prim from $13.50 to $750.

Now, Syd­ney school stu­dents have recre­ated the drug’s key in­gre­di­ent for just $20.

Dara­prim is an anti-par­a­sitic drug used by malaria and Aids pa­tients.

The Syd­ney Gram­mar boys, all 17, syn­the­sised the ac­tive in­gre­di­ent, pyrimethamine, in their school science lab­o­ra­tory.

“It wasn’t ter­ri­bly hard but that’s re­ally the point, I think, be­cause we’re high school stu­dents,” one boy, Charles Jame­son, said.

The stu­dents pro­duced 3.7 grams of pyrimethamine for $20. In the US, 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 boys said they con­ducted the year-long ex­per­i­ment to high­light the drug’s in­flated cost in the US.

“It seems to­tally un­jus­ti­fied and eth­i­cally wrong,” stu­dent James Wood said. “It’s a life-sav­ing drug and so many peo­ple can’t af­ford it.”

Supervising teacher Dr Mal­colm Binns said: “Ev­ery­one is very happy and pleased with the re­sult. All the boys think it’s the most amaz­ing thing.”

De­vel­oped in the 1950s, Dara­prim is the best treat­ment for a rel­a­tively rare par­a­sitic in­fec­tion called tox­o­plas­mo­sis.

Mr Shkreli, also known as “Pharma Bro”, was chief ex­ec­u­tive of Tur­ing Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals when it ac­quired ex­clu­sive rights to Dara­prim.

Its de­ci­sion to in­crease the cost by more than 5,000% in Au­gust last year drew in­ter­na­tional con­dem­na­tion. Mr Shkreli has ar­gued the Dara­prim price in­crease was war­ranted be­cause the drug is highly spe­cialised.

But the firm even­tu­ally agreed to lower the price to some­thing more af­ford­able.

Dr Alice Wil­liamson, a Univer­sity of Syd­ney re­search chemist, sup­ported the boys’ pro­ject through on­line plat­form Open Source Malaria.

“They’ve trans­formed starter ma­te­rial that’s worth pen­nies into some­thing that has a real mone­tary value in the States,” she said.

“If you can ob­tain it cheaply in schools, then there’s no ex­cuse for charg­ing that much money for a drug. Es­pe­cially from peo­ple that re­ally need it and prob­a­bly can’t af­ford to pay for it.”

Dr Wil­liamson called the pric­ing in the US “lu­di­crous”.

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

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