Students from the Sydney Grammar School proved that ‘Pharma bro,’ Martin Shkreli is overpricing his drug Daraprim as they managed to synthesize the essential medicine for only $2 the dose. Last year Shkreli was heavily criticized for hiking the price of Daraprim from $13.50 to $750 a tablet.

Daraprim is a drug listed as an essential medicine by the World Health Organization, and it is used to treat infections such as toxoplasmosis and malaria. People with a low immune system also use the drug including HIV and chemotherapy patients and pregnant women.

Students from Sydney Grammar School in Australia were able to replicate the active ingredient in Turing Pharmaceuticals’ malaria drug Daraprim in the school lab. Image Credit: University of Sydney

The science project is an initiative of the University of Sydney’s Open Source Malaria Consortium that is working with the Brighton Grammar School for the second year in a row. The goal of the program is to use publicly available drugs and medical approaches to cure malaria.

Dr. Alice Williamson, a chemist from the University of Sydney, along with the consortium founder Associate Professor Matthew Todd worked with the group of young boys. Williamson said that she thought Daraprim was an ideal drug for the project since it can be synthesized in the school’s lab.  

James Wood, one of the boys that managed to synthesized Daraprim for only $2, said the background of the drug added value to the project. Austin Zhang, 17, stated that working with a real problem made the group more enthusiastic.

Professor Todd said that the next step is to take the cooperative project with the University of Sydney to all sort of schools since the project has been applied at the Brighton Grammar School because it has the appropriate lab.

Williamson said that the University of Sydney’s Open Source Malaria Consortium could take students to labs or labs to students. The consortium is currently raising money to adapt a recreational vehicle (RV) as a lab to transport the environment to different schools.

Buying ingredients on the internet for less than $40 was enough to synthesize the expensive drug made and controlled by  Martin Shkreli

The $2 dose was made with 17 grams of the raw material 2,4 chlorophenyl acetonitrile that can be bought on the internet at $36,.50 for 100 grams. The students worked through a number of steps along with their chemistry teacher, Dr. Malcolm Binns, who explains they could not use the patented route because it involved dangerous reagents.

Instead, Dr. Williamson, Dr. Binns, and the boys thought of an alternative way from the starting compound to the end result to create the same drug that Shkreli created. The team of young boys accomplished their goal last week when they synthesized 3.7 grams of Daraprim.

Dr. Williamson tested the result in a spectrograph at the University of Sydney and confirmed the product made at the Brighton Grammar School was pure. Those boys produced about $110,000 worth of the drug in their school’s lab.

The group of young students presented their product at the Royal Australian Chemical Institute NSW Organic Chemistry Symposium alongside honors, postgraduate students, and postdoctoral professionals.

Martin Shkreli ‘big pharma bro’ praised the Australian students’ work on Youtube

Martin Shkreli is the mind behind the essential drug Daraprim, and after gaining control of Turing Pharmaceuticals, he raised his drug price from $13.50 to $750 a tablet in the U.S. market, increasing the price of the drug more than 5 thousand percent. In Australia, fifty tablets of a 25-milligram dose are available for $12.99.

After the scandalous price was made public, Shkreli has been called “a morally bankrupt sociopath” and “everything that is wrong with capitalism.” Martin Shkreli argued that he had to raise the price to force insurance companies to fund research for better drugs. When people found out he purchased a $2 million album after changing the price of the essential medicine, the public was even more outraged than before.

Contrary to what people thought he was going to say about the Australian students’ accomplishment, he congratulated the program and praised how kids are encouraged to be involved in a stem field.

“We should congratulate these students for their interest in chemistry and all be excited about what is to come in the stem-focussed 21st century,” stated “big pharma bro” on a youtube video.

Shkreli first laughed at the idea of some young boys synthesizing his drug but apparently he then took them seriously and recorded himself congratulating the students’ efforts.

He said on the video that the Australian boys are proof that the 21st-century economy will solve problems of human suffering with science and technology. Shkreli mentioned he recently was excited about his findings and how they started to become a viable solution for certain diseases.

‘Pharma bro’ said that medical science has brought significant advances in cancer, mental health and autoimmune disorders and technology has made it possible to reduce drug costs dramatically. Shkreli ended his 54-second message saying that he is excited to see what is coming in the stem-focused 21st century.

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald