Australian Students School Martin Shkreli

Pharmaceutical Investing
Pharmaceutical Investing

Australian students have successfully produced daraprim, the same drug Martin Shkreli deemed worth $750 a pop.

Move over Bernie Sanders—the drug industry has a new opponent now, and it’s a group of high school kids. Australian students have successfully produced daraprim, the same drug Martin Shkreli deemed worth $750 a pop. Their production costs? Around AU$2 per dose.
Let’s recap quickly: Martin Shkreli, then CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, generated a firestorm of controversy back in 2015, when he raised the price of a life-saving drug by over 5,000 percent. That brought average treatment costs to $63,000 per patient.
“The drug was unprofitable at the former price, so any company selling it would be losing money,” Shkreli told CBS News at the time. “And at this price it’s a reasonable profit, not excessive at all.”

Critics cried foul. Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, competing for the Democratic nomination, called the price hike outrageous, and the latter actually rejected Shkreli’s campaign donation.
Eventually, Turing compromised a little: today, one pill costs $375. It’s a 50 percent reduction from the initial hike—but still 2,500 percent more than the drug used to cost, according to CNN Money. And now, news out of Australia is putting Shkreli, Turing and these questionable pricing policies back in the spotlight.
Mentored by Dr. Alice Williamson and Professor Matthew Todd, a group of students reproduced daraprim in their high school lab.
“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,” Williamson told The Guardian.
So she came up with a plan: get a group of kids to reproduce the drug in their school laboratory. ”I thought if we could show that students could make it in a lab with no real training, we could show how ridiculous this price hike was,” Williamson explained.
The process was documented online, so that scientists the world over could view the kids’ progress and provide assistance when necessary. Then, two weeks ago, the students met with success.
“It’s super pure. It’s A-grade. I couldn’t believe my eyes,” remembered Todd. “That was the moment. I realized they had nailed it.”
Not everyone is so impressed. Although Shkreli no longer works for Turing, the ‘pharma bro’ had plenty to say about the school project.
“Labor and equipment costs? Didn’t know you could get physical chemists to work for free? I should use high school kids to make my medicines!” he tweeted.
“And never, ever compare your cook game to mine,” he added, after first congratulating the students for their interest in science. “Highest yield, best purity, most scale. I have the synthesis game on lock.”
In response to a tweet asking if the high school students pose any real competition, Shkreli was less verbose, saying only, “ ….no.
He’s right about that. Turing still has exclusive rights to market the drug in the United States, which means the students’ work won’t show up on American shelves any time soon. Still, the story has regenerated interest in Turing’s pricing strategies. It’s just one more headline in a year that’s been full of talk about pharmaceutical price-gouging.
As we head into the final month of 2016, it’s clear that drug prices remain a hot topic. So too are some of the legal issues around these pharmaceutical companies, like patent protection. Looking forward to next year, it seems these conversations will continue.
After all, the story of Martin Shkreli and his high school-aged competitors has gone viral in just a few short hours … suggesting that people remain very much engaged with the question of drug prices and the power of the pharma industry.
Don’t forget to follow us @INN_LifeScience for real-time news updates.
Securities Disclosure: I, Chelsea Pratt, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.
The Conversation (0)