Do you remember Martin Shkreli, the pharmaceutical CEO and “most hated man in the world” who bought the rights to vital anti-HIV drug Daraprim and whacked up the price by 5000%? Well, he's got yet another problem on his hands: a group of 16-year-old school kids have done a Breaking Bad and recreated the drug for only $US1.50 (₦720).
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Year 11 students at Sydney Grammar made an exact copy of the drug – which used to cost $13.50 (₦6400) per pill before Shkreli's Turing Pharmaceuticals raised the price to $750 (₦350k) – as part of the University of Sydney’s Open Source Malaria Consortium.
The Aussie schoolboys successfully came up with a formula for Daraprim, which treated malaria and parasitic infections in people with weakened immune systems. Indexed on the World Health Organisation’s essential medicines list, it is commonly prescribed to people with HIV.
From 17g of raw 2,4-chlorophenyl acetonitrile bought online for $36.50 (₦17k) per 100g, the boys produced 3.7g of Daraprim. Based on Shkreli's marked-up prices, that's approximately $US110,000 (₦52 million) worth of the drug, reports TIME.
Dr Alice Williamson, teaching fellow at the school who mentored the school pupils throughout the project, became increasingly concerned about Shkreli's greedy price hike. She said:
“I couldn’t get this story out of my head, it just seemed so unfair especially since the drug is so cheap to make and had been sold so cheaply for so long.
“I said ‘Why don’t we get students to make Daraprim in the lab’, because to me the route looked pretty simple. 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.”
Throughout the development of the drug, the students posted their progress online on an open platform so scientists around the world could view the data and help out the students from afar.
Martin Shkreli isn't so impressed. The "Pharma Bro" took to Twitter to denounce the schoolboys' success, claiming "almost any drug can be made at small scale for a low price." In a series of tweets he continued to reject the significance of the project, laughing off claims it had "destroyed" him. According to Shkreli, "anyone can make any drug" as it's pretty easy, or rather "ez".
@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
@Scottyt2Hottie yea uh anyone can make any drug it is pretty ez— Martin Shkreli (@MartinShkreli) December 1, 2016
@lgamon lol— Martin Shkreli (@MartinShkreli) November 30, 2016
The project is a symbolic feat against corrupt pharmaceutical industries not just in the US, but around the world. And yet, the student-produced drug won't be available in the US any time soon.
Reports claim that while the drug is out of patent, a loophole allows Turing Pharmaceuticals to control the sales and distribution of Daraprim. In order to make the $2 Aussie drug available to those in need, a new trial would need to be funded. And they're very expensive.