In the year 2015, Martin Shkreli of Turing Pharmaceuticals bought the right to the anti-parasitic drug called Daraprim and immediately set the price to a shocking $750, a far cry from the original price of $13.50.
According to the World Health Organization, Daraprim is one of the essential medicines used to treat parasites such as malaria or toxoplasmosis. It is also the preferred treatment for those who have problems in their immune systems such as pregnant women, HIV patients or people undergoing chemotherapy.
Due to the extremely unreasonable price gouging, Turing Pharmaceuticals was eventually forced to cut Daraprim’s price by 50 percent when used for hospitals but the price for private users stayed the same.
The project started through the online research-sharing platform Open Source Malaria, where students from the Sydney Grammar School collaborated with chemist Alice Williamson of the University of Sydney in a program they were participating in.
They began working on synthesizing pyrimethamine, the active ingredient of Daraprim, when Turing Pharmaceutical’s price hike was known to the general public. Studying the patented method for making pyrimethamine, they found that it involved a highly dangerous chemical inappropriate for a simple high school laboratory. Given the constraints, they had to develop and entirely new way to synthesize pyrimethamine.
And they managed to do just that.
A total of 12 months of work was needed to perfect their new technique and successfully produce 3.7 grams of pyrimethamine that would sell for $110,000 if based on the price set by Turing Pharmaceuticals. But in contrast to Turing Pharmaceutical’s Daraprim price, it only cost them $20 to manufacture it.
The students have published their new technique online for free and presented their research at the Royal Australian Chemical Institute NSW Organic Chemistry Symposium.
Regrettably, the students’ breakthrough is unlikely to change the drug pricing in the United States due to a loophole in the U.S. drug law called the “closed distribution model” leaving the Big Pharma protected, despite the fact that pyrimethamine already sells for only $1 to $2 per pill in nearly every other country.
However, the fact remains that they have contributed to the world of medicine.