Aussie schoolboys recreate HIV drug in price-hike protest

SYDNEY • A group of Australian schoolchildren working on a shoestring budget has recreated the HIV drug whose price was controversially jacked up by 5,000 per cent by a former hedge fund manager.

American drug company chief Martin Shkreli became a global figure of hate after buying the rights to Daraprim, then raising the price in the United States from US$13.50 (S$20) a tablet to US$750.

Youngsters at a Sydney school decided to draw attention to the scandal and went to work creating pyrimethamine, the active ingredient for Daraprim. The drug is an anti-parasitic used to treat people with low immune systems, such as those with HIV, chemotherapy patients and pregnant women.

Student James Wood said he and his friends started off with just US$20 of the drug, and, in one reaction, had produced thousands of dollars' worth. "So we really just hope this makes a point about the nature of the pharmaceutical industry," he told the Sydney Morning Herald.

University of Sydney research chemist Alice Williamson helped the boys synthesise the medicine using an online platform, Open Source Malaria. The students "shared the outrage of the general public", she said. "The original recipe, if you like, to make this molecule was from a patent that was referenced on Wikipedia."

Turing Pharmaceuticals sells the only Food and Drug Administration-approved form of the drug in the US, but reportedly halved the price for hospitals after the outcry.

Daraprim, which figures on the World Health Organisation list of essential medicine, is cheap in most countries, with 50 tablets selling in Australia for US$10.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 02, 2016, with the headline 'Aussie schoolboys recreate HIV drug in price-hike protest'. Print Edition | Subscribe