Australian students make an expensive drug cheap

A team of Australian students has been able to manufacture a malaria drug that has seen its price, as charged by US manufacturers, skyrocket, The Guardian reported in December.

And Martin Shkreli, the CEO who hiked the price of Deraprim by about 5000 percent, doesn’t like it. His account on Twitter has been suspended, but The Guardian quoted a tweet from December 1 as saying, “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 student group from Sydney Grammar managed to make the drug, on a small scale, for about $2 a pill.

Shortly after Mr Shkreli bought Turing Pharmaceuticals in 2015, he increased the price of the drug, which has been off-patent since the 1970s, from $13.50 to $750 a tablet. One student in the group said Mr Shkreli was “an attention-seeking businessman” who forgets there are “people’s lives and livelihoods at stake.”

CBS News reported in December 2015 that Express Scripts, the largest pharmacy benefits manager in the US, would make an alternative medicine available for $1 a pill, underscoring the absurdity of the price hike.

Since the drug is off-patent, the pill from Imprimis Pharmaceuticals can be made without any worries about infringing on the patent holder’s rights. The drug from Imprimis, using ingredients that have already approved by the FDA, contains pyrimethamine, which is the active ingredient in Daraprim, as well as leucovorin, which limits the side effects of pyrimethamine.

In addition to being used in the treatment of certain types of malaria, the drug is also useful in the treatment of toxoplasmosis, a leading cause of death attributed to foodborne illness in the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.