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Students recreate Martin Shkreli’s $750 HIV drug for $2

The drug replicates the pharma bro’s Daraprim, a medicine used to treat HIV/Aids and malaria that was price-hiked 5,000 per cent overnight

Students in Australia have successfully replicated a drug used in HIV/Aids treatment that was increased from $13.50 to $750 by former hedge fund manager/pharma bro/all-round dickhead Martin Shkreli. On World Aids Day, Shkreli has been completely wrecked by a group of high-school kids.

Students at Sydney Grammar reproduced Daraprim, which is listed in the World Health Organisation’s roster of essential medicines, with support from Open Source Malaria consortium and the University of Sydney. With paid-for equipment, chemicals and existing facilities, year 11 students succeeded in creating the drug across a few weeks.

Postdoctoral teaching fellow Dr Alice Williamson told The Guardian that Shkreli’s acquisition of Daraprim, used against malaria and toxoplasmosis infection for people with HIV, had haunted her. “I couldn’t get this story out of my head, it just seemed so unfair especially since the drug is so cheap to make and had been sold so cheaply for so long,” she said.

“I said, ‘Why don’t we get students to make Daraprim in the lab?’ because to me the route looked pretty simple. I thought if we could show that students could make it in the lab with no real training, we could really show how ridiculous this price-hike was and that there was no way it could be justified.”

The group posted their data in real-time as they navigated patents with “dangerous reagents”, with guidance from Williamson and associate professor Matthew Todd. After a few weeks, students succeeded in creating 3.7 grammes of pyrimethamine, the chemical name for Daraprim, which is worth approximately $110,000 based on Shkreli’s ludicrous pricing.

“Not only have they done it, it’s super-pure. It’s A-grade. I couldn’t believe my eyes. That was the moment. I realised they had nailed it. The students were over the moon,” said Todd. 

Shkreli previously told the BBC that “Daraprim is still underpriced, relative to its peers”. Huh. 

The students will not be able to sell the drug in the US, as Shkreli’s Turing Pharmaceuticals maintains the exclusive rights there, and officially sanctioned clinical trials would have to be held at Turing’s agreement. In Australia, a packet of 50 tablets can be bought for $13.

Asked on Twitter whether the students were competition, Shkreli replied: “No.” In another reply, he said: “lol (sic) how is that showing anyone up? almost any drug can be made at small scale for a low price. glad it makes u feel good tho”.

The Malaria project has published the student’s findings online, and work to develop it into proper treatment continues.