Martin Shkreli's $750 life-saving drug recreated by high school students for $2
Published Thursday, December 1, 2016 12:13PM EST
Remember Martin Shkreli? He’s the so-called “pharma bro” who was dubbed “the world’s most hated man,” and a symbol of corporate greed, when he hiked the price of a life-saving drug from US$13.50 to $750 per tablet after his company Turing Pharmaceuticals acquired rights to the drug in 2015.
Now, the former CEO and hedge fund manager is responding to claims that he’s been “shown up” by a group of high school students in Australia. The Sydney Grammar School students managed to recreate the active ingredient in the anti-parasitic drug Daraprim for a fraction of the price Shkreli’s company charges.
The teenagers produced 3.7 grams of the key ingredient, pyrimethamine, in their high school chemistry lab for only AU$20, which works out to AU$2 per pill. Daraprim is used to treat infections such as malaria and toxoplasmosis, particularly in patients with weakened immune systems, such as those living with HIV, undergoing chemotherapy or pregnant women. The drug is listed on the World Health Organization’s list of essential medicines.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the students began working on the project as part of an after-school program under the guidance of Alice Williamson, a chemist at the University of Sydney, and the school’s Open Source Malaria Consortium, which is an online research-sharing platform. They were tasked with using publicly available ingredients to treat malaria.
A couple of the students involved in the experiment told the Australian newspaper that the controversy surrounding Shkreli and the drug made the project more engaging.
"Working on a real-world problem definitely made us more enthusiastic," Austin Zhang, 17, said.
Another member of the team, 17-year-old James Wood agreed.
"The background to this made it seem more important," Wood said.
Williamson said the Sydney Grammar School students were also outraged by the Shkreli scandal, which motivated them to focus on synthesizing the important drug. The teenagers said they participated in the year-long venture to highlight Turing Pharmaceutical’s inflated price of US$750 per Daraprim tablet. In most countries, the drug is sold for approximately $1 to $2 per tablet.
The teenagers said their goal isn’t to sell the drug, but to inspire other manufacturers to use their inexpensive method. The details of the student’s experiment have been published online.
The students’ story has attracted international attention, which prompted countless social media users to heckle Shkreli about it online.
So how has the man who once spent US$2 million on the lone copy of a Wu-Tang Clan album responded to the students’ project? Shkreli took to Twitter on Wednesday to dismiss the significance of the achievement and laugh off the mocking comments directed at him.
@nedavanovac lol how is that showing anyone up? almost any drug can be made at small scale for a low price. glad it makes u feel good tho.— Martin Shkreli (@MartinShkreli) December 1, 2016
@lgamon lol— Martin Shkreli (@MartinShkreli) November 30, 2016
@Scottyt2Hottie yea uh anyone can make any drug it is pretty ez— Martin Shkreli (@MartinShkreli) December 1, 2016
Williamson disagreed with Shkreli’s Twitter responses and called the group of students’ achievement “very impressive work.” She also made another significant observation about Shkreli’s online argument.
"If anyone can do it and it's so cheap, it highlights why it shouldn't be US$750 a dose,” Williamson said.