Schoolboys outwit ‘most hated man in US’
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.