Some high school students in Sydney, Australia, have recreated the main ingredient in Daraprim, a drug that so-called "Pharma Bro" Martin Shkreli acquired the rights to in 2015 and jacked up the price from $13.50 per tablet to $750 (video below).
A few 17-year-old students at Sydney Grammar spent $20 to recreate 3.7 grams of Pyrimethamine, the main ingredient in Daraprim, notes Australia's ABC News. The 3.7 grams could sell for up to $110,000 in the U.S.
Pyrimethamine kills parasitic infections such as toxoplasmosis and malaria in people with compromised immune systems: chemotherapy patients, those with HIV and pregnant women, reports The Sydney Morning Herald.
Milan Leonard, one of the students, told Australia's ABC News: "It makes sense that if you're putting billions of dollars into research for a drug like this, you should be able to reap some profit, but to do something like this … it's just not just."
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Leonard recalled the breakthrough that he and his fellow classmates achieved: "It was ecstatic, it was bliss, it was euphoric. 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."
Brandon Lee, one of Leonard's classmates, also chimed in:
At first there was definitely disbelief. 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 realized we finally got to our main goal.
Shkreli is no longer with Turing Pharmaceuticals, but the drug company continues to sell Daraprim at a 50 percent discount to hospitals, which is far more than the Australian price ($1 to $2 per pill). Unlike the U.S., Australia has socialized medical care.
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Alice Williamson, a research chemist at the University of Sydney, recalled helping the students in their quest via an Open Source Malaria Consortium:
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. 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.
James Wood, one of the students, told The Sydney Morning Herald: "The background to this made it seem more important."
Austin Zhang, another student, said: "Working on a real-world problem definitely made us more enthusiastic."
Imprimis Pharmaceuticals, located in the U.S., created a compound form of Daraprim that sells for $1 per dose, but it is not approved by the FDA. However, compounding pharmacies are allowed to make it.