Turing Pharmaceuticals CEO Martin Shkreli appeared upset after he heard a generic variant of Daraprim was successfully synthesized by a few Australian students in their school laboratory. Shkreli, who has earned the infamous nickname “Pharma Bro,” took to social media to chastise and criticize the efforts of the Sydney schoolboys for offering their generic alternative for roughly $2 per dose, as compared to the $750 price tag Daraprim carried until recently.
“Pharma Bro” Martin Shkreli, who gained notoriety for hiking life-saving medicine Daraprim’s price by 5,000 percent and endorsed the same pricing strategy adopted by the makers of EpiPen, responded to students who managed to synthesize a generic variant very cheaply in a school laboratory.
After the news about the cheap alternatives started making the rounds of the internet, Shkreli took to Twitter to vent, and he seemed to display a mix of frustration and anger.
As expected, the students who made the life-saving medicine Daraprim in a school laboratory have accused Shkreli of being “an attention-seeking businessman.” They added that in his bid to maximize his profits, he routinely forgets there are “people’s lives and livelihoods at stake” in the row over predatory drug pricing.
Martin Shkreli has routinely been called the “poster boy for greedy drug company executives” and “the most hated man in the world,” because he jacked up prices of Daraprim, a 62-year-old anti-parasitic drug, by over 5,000 percent, reported the Sydney Morning Herald. The drug is direly needed by patients with weakened immune systems. Daraprim, the active ingredient of which is pyrimethamine, is part of a vital line of treatment in certain types of malaria as well as toxoplasmosis. While the condition is rare, it is often life-threatening. Caused by the Toxoplasma gondii parasite, toxoplasmosis often affects people who have weakened immune systems. Since HIV and AIDS virus wreak havoc on the immune system, the drug is often prescribed to these patients.
However, with no apparent consideration about the criticality of the drug, the former hedge fund manager bought Turing Pharmaceuticals last year and almost immediately increased the price of the drug from $13.50 to $750 a tablet. Incidentally, the medication is currently listed by the World Health Organization as essential, but there is no strict legislature to force Shkreli’s company to keep the price low.
Eleven students, belonging to Sydney Grammar School, claimed they wanted to prove just how exorbitant Shkreli’s pricing of the drug was. Hence, the students, between the ages of 16 and 17, attempted to recreate the drug molecule in their school laboratory under the guidance of Dr. Alice Williamson and associate professor Matthew Todd from the Open Source Malaria consortium, reported the Guardian. Interestingly, the students succeeded in recreating the drug, and it cost them $2 per pill.
Needless to say, the story became an overnight sensation. While the Australian duo was being applauded online, Shkreli posted some tweets that appear to border on dissent.
While the synthesis of a drug on a small scale, in a school laboratory, is easy, making the drug on an industrial scale, while ensuring the “highest yield, best purity, most scale,” is a different ballgame, taunted Shkreli.
Interestingly, when Shkreli was questioned about the exorbitant price rise that his company orchestrated, he maintained the strategy was meant to extract money from insurance companies to fund research for better drugs.
In an apparent response to Shkreli’s alleged altruistic intentions, one of the Australian students, James Wood, said, “I don’t believe his justification for the price hike. It seems a bit wishy-washy. He was clearly trying to justify something driven by the profit motive.”
It is quite apparent Shkreli was keenly reading all the tweets that mentioned either the boys or the generic alternative. He even chose to respond to many such congratulatory messages.
Although Martin Shkreli might appear displeased, the majority of the active ingredients of drugs sold in the open market can be synthesized in small quantities in a laboratory. However, large scale manufacturing, FDA and other approvals, huge hygienic facilities, and logistics and distribution costs a lot of money. All these factors have to be incorporated within the final pricing of the drug.
[Featured Image by Drew Angerer/Getty Images]