High School Students "Punched" Martin Shkreli in the Face by Recreating $750 HIV Pill for a Mere $2

High School Students Punched Martin Shkreli in the Face by Recreating $750 HIV Pill for a Mere $2 December 1, 2016
By Alex Keown, BioSpace.com Breaking News Staff

NEW YORK – Martin Shkreli just took one on the chin after a group of Australian high school students recreated the key ingredients of Daraprim, the toxoplasmosis drug Shkreli acquired in 2015 and jacked the price of a single pill by 5,000 percent, for a mere $2.

The 11 high school science students, all 17, were able to synthesize the active ingredient, pyrimethamine, in the school laboratory, the BBC reported this morning. They produced 3.7 grams of pyrimethamine, for about $20, which the BBC said would cost about $110,000 in the U.S. The students set out on their experiment as a means of showing how the drug can be produced inexpensively and to underscore the inflated costs in the United States. Daraprim can be obtained in the U.K. and Australia for about $1.50 per pill, compared to the $750 per pill here in the U.S. Prior to Shkreli’s acquisition of Daraprim, the cost of the drug was about $18 per pill.

The boys posted all their laboratory work online with the Open Source Malaria (OSM) group, a project using open source principles to find a cure for malaria. One of the students’ advisers, Alice Williamson, a postdoctoral teaching fellow at the University of Sydney, works with OSM. The high school scientists worked on their project for a couple of hours each day for several months. By posting their research to the OSM site, they were able to receive feedback and guidance from other people in the life sciences industry.

Shkreli was condemned for the price hike of the 65-year-old Daraprim – a decision he roundly defended, even suggesting he could have increased the price even more. His decision sparked increased scrutiny into the high price of many prescription drugs, something that continued through the presidential election last month. There are questions as to whether or not those concerns will continue to be addressed under the new administration of Donald Trump.

After news broke of the high school students’ experiment, several users took to Twitter to mock Shkreli, who became the poster boy for rising drug prices. Shkreli though, dismissed the accomplishment. In one tweet he said “… almost any drug can be made at small scale for a low price.”

Williamson though told the Washington Post that the high costs of drugs are not always justifiable. She said if high school students can develop the same drug for a small cost, “how can you get away with charging $750 for an essential medicine to so many people who are already vulnerable?”

Despite their success in the lab, the high school students are not looking at launching a business on what they created, it was more to prove a point than turn a profit.

Last year, compound drugmaker Imprimis Pharmaceuticals offered a compound of pyrimethamine and leucovorin as a low-cost alternative to Daraprim. At the time, Imprimis said its combination treatment will have a price tag of $99 for 100 tablets, slightly less than $1 per pill.

Shkreli is currently awaiting trial for multiple charges of federal securities trade fraud. He is scheduled to go before a judge on June 26, 2017. Although a lightning rod of criticism during his time helming Turing Pharmaceuticals and the Daraprim price hike, Shkreli was ultimately brought down from his time spent as a hedge fund manager. Shkreli was charged by federal authorities on Dec. 17. The seven count indictment against Shkreli included multiple charges of securities fraud, securities fraud conspiracy and wire fraud conspiracy.

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