A life-saving drug at the center of a 2015 price-gouging controversy when one pharmaceutical CEO increased its price by 5,000% has been recreated by a group of Australian students in the chemistry lab at their school for just $20 per pill, according to CNN and BBC News reports.
Daraprim (also known as Pyrimethamine) is a medication that is used to treat cystoisosporiasis, malaria, and toxoplasmosis, and when used alone with dapsone, it is also prescribed in order to prevent Pneumocystis jiroveci pneumonia (PCP) in patients infected with HIV or AIDS.
Daraprim is produced by Turing Pharmaceuticals, which drew national attention last year when chief executive Martin Shkreli opted to increase the price of the anti-parasitic from $13.50/tablet to $750/tablet in the US. Shkreli was heavily criticized for the move, with The Atlantic reporting that he was “the face of unapologetic profiteering from the suffering of humans.”
Now, under the tutelage of University of Sydney chemist Dr. Alice Williamson, students from Sydney Grammar School have successfully synthesized the active ingredient Pyrimethamine in the laboratory at their school. They were able to produce 3.7 grams of Pyrimethamine for $20, a quantity that would reportedly cost patients in the US more than $100,000.
‘Pure sample’ produced using easily obtainable raw materials
One of the students, Charles Jameson, told the BBC that synthesizing Daraprim “wasn’t terribly hard but that’s really the point, I think, because we’re high school students.” Another student, 17-year-old James Wood, explained The Sydney Morning Herald that “the background to this made it seem more important.”
“This Daraprim story has been ingrained in lots of people’s minds,” Dr. Williamson said in an interview with CNN. “I thought ‘what if we can get these boys to show you can make it from cheap materials and that relatively inexperienced young scientists can make it?’ Not only would the boys be involved in an exciting research project, maybe it would be a way to highlight the iniquity [of the price hike].”
The project was dubbed “Breaking Good,” a nod to the popular US TV show “Breaking Bad,” which is about a chemistry teacher who is diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer and who starts producing and selling crystal meth to earn money for his family before dying. The students spent one year producing the Daraprim, and said they were pleased with the results of their work.
According to the Morning Herald, the students started by obtaining 17 grams of the raw material 2,4-chlorophenyl acetonitrile, which can be purchased online for a cost of $36.50 per 100 grams. They were unable to use the patented technique for producing the drug, as it requires the use of dangerous reagents, and instead worked with their chemistry teacher to use an alternative method that produced “a very pure sample of the active ingredient,” Dr. Williamson told CNN.
The students presented the results of their work Wednesday at the Royal Australian Chemical Institute NSW Organic Chemistry symposium.
Image credit: ABC