Martin Shkreli is an American entrepreneur and pharmaceutical executive. He is co-founder of the hedge fund MSMB Capital Management, co-founder and former chief executive officer (CEO) of the biotechnology firm Retrophin, and founder and former CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals.
In September 2015, Shkreli’s Turin Pharmaceutical company obtained the manufacturing license for the anti-parasitic drug known as Daraprim. After obtaining the license, he immediately raised the price of the drug by a factor of 56 (from $13.5 to $750 per pill). The new price means the drug has been increased by a whopping 5,000%. This ridiculous price increase, nonetheless, sparked public outrage; with Shkreli now referred to by media as the “most hated man in America.”
Daraprim is used to treat toxoplasmosis, a parasite infection that can cause life-threatening problems for those with weakened immune systems, such as unborn babies, HIV/AIDS sufferers and some cancer patients. Treatment requires a course of 100 pills, and at the now going rate of $750 a pill, this makes it out of reach for many patients, particularly the middle and lower classes.
Despite the American public outrage, Shkreli has continued to sell his drug at this exorbitant price, never making an attempt to reduce it.
But in latest news, a group of Australian schoolboys have succeeded in recreating the same drug Shkreli is selling at $750, for just $1.20. The students are said to be only 17-years-old, and attend Sydney Grammar school.
According to Australian media reports, the students were supported by the University of Sydney and members of the Open Source Malaria consortium, as part of the Breaking Good – Open Source Malaria Schools and Undergraduate Program.
When the students were making the drug, their work was opened on the Internet, allowing interested researchers to view the data generated, and thus help them accelerate their progress.
Because Daraprim has been patented, to make their brand of drug, the students worked with their chemistry teacher, Dr Malcolm Binns to find an innovative pathway in order to avoid any future legal challenges.
Dr Binns revealed that the students were able to produce 3.7 grams of pyrimethamine – the chemical name of Daraprim – at a cost of just $20. That is around $110,000 worth of the drug, based on the price mark-up of Turing Pharmaceuticals.
The students have already presented their results at the Royal Australian Chemical Institute NSW Organic Chemistry symposium. The drug has been accepted. As it stands now, the students would not be able to sell their drug in the United States.
Dr Alice Williamson, a postdoctoral teaching fellow with the University of Sydney’s school of chemistry, who tutored the boys together with associate professor Matthew Todd, told Guardian Australia that having students make the drug demonstrates how simple and unjustifiably expensive it is for Shkreli to sell the drug to patients at inflated costs.
When the news of what the students had done broke, many Americans took to social media platforms to question Shkreli. Some mocked him, while others accused him of being too greedy. Needless to say, he was trolled on Twitter.
Shkreli was forced to later respond to a question as to whether the schoolboys were competing with him or not, which could see the total collapse of his drug business. He responded by saying the boys are not competing.
— Martin Shkreli (@MartinShkreli) December 1, 2016
He posted a short video message, listing a series of his own achievements before offering a lukewarm congratulatory message to the students. Many replied to Shkreli, saying that he is being jealous of what the boys have achieved.
In December 2015, Shkreli was arrested by the FBI after being indicted on federal charges of securities fraud. He is currently free on bail, pending trial. He resigned as CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals and was replaced by the company’s board chairman, Ron Tilles. His trial is set for June 26, 2017.
This student achievement will further deepen the woes of Shkreli. With time, the drug will be available, ending his reign with Turing Pharmaceuticals Company.