We all know some drugs are overpriced, but do you have any idea just how overpriced they are?
Pyrimethamine is the active substance in the medicine Daraprim. It’s used to treat parasitic infections in people with vulnerable immune systems, such as HIV sufferers or pregnant women. In August 2015, the price of Daraprim in the US rose from $US13.50 per tablet to $US750, a move made by controversial then-chief executive Martin Shkreli. In most countries, Daraprim is sold for between $1 to $2 per pill.
Well, two high school students in Australia have shown just how cheaply the drug can be produced.
Milan Leonard and his high-school colleagues created 3.7 grams of the active ingredient for $20 – something which in the US would sell for up to $110,000. They worked for a year, but in the end, they achieved what they wanted.
“It was ecstatic, it was bliss, it was euphoric,” he said. “After all of this time spent working and chemistry being such a high and low, after all the lows, after all the downs, being able to make this drug, it was pure bliss.”
Fellow student Brandon Lee said he almost couldn’t believe they managed to do it in just their high school lab.
“At first there was definitely disbelief,” he said. “We spent so long and there were so many obstacles that we, not lost hope, but it surprised us like ‘oh, we actually made this material’ and ‘this can actually help people out there’. “So it was definitely disbelief but then it turned in to happiness as we realised we finally got to our main goal.”
The students didn’t do it all by themselves, they were guided by University of Sydney research chemist Alice Williamson, who guided them through an online research-sharing platform called Open Source Malaria. In case you’re wondering how they knew the ingredients to make this drug… well, they got it off Wikipedia.
“The original route that we got, so the original recipe if you like to make this molecule, was from a patent that was referenced on Wikipedia,” Dr Williamson said. “Now of course we checked to see if it looked reasonable … but the route that was up actually had one step that involved a really dangerous chemical. The boys had to navigate a difficult step and do this in a different way, and they’ve managed to do that, and they’ve managed to do that in their high school laboratory.”
At the moment, Turing Pharmaceuticals is the only company to sell the FDA-approved drug, and they refuse to lower the price. Following backlash and legal threats, all the company did is reduce the price by 50% for hospitals – but it’s still absurdly high.