Synthesizing Daraprim To Beat Price Gougers

Drugs are used the world over to treat disease. However, from time to time, the vagaries of market economics, or unscrupulous action, can radically increase the price of otherwise cheap pharmaceuticals far beyond the reach of the average person. This was the case with Pyrimethamine (sold as Daraprim), which is used to treat toxoplasmosis and malaria, among other users. With the price skyrocketing from $13 to $750 a tablet in the US in 2015, [NurdRage] decided to synthesize the drug on their own. (If you missed the background hubbub, search for “Martin Shkreli”.)

The video linked covers the final synthesis, though [NurdRage] has previously covered the synthesis of the required precursor chemicals. Budding chemists may grow excited, but there are significant hurdles to attempting this synthesis yourself. Chemicals involved are carcinogenic, toxic, acidic, or otherwise dangerous, and a fume hood is a necessity if working inside. Outside of this, there are immense risks in homebrewing pharmaceuticals. Performing the synthesis of an important drug is one thing, but to do so at a medical-grade level where the products are safe for human consumption is on an entirely different level.

Overall, [NurdRage] has put out a series of videos that have strong educational value, showing us what really goes into the production of a common pharmaceutical compound. There’s also something to be said about taking the production of life-saving medicines into one’s own hands in the face of prohibitive treatment costs. In a similar vein, perhaps you’ve considered producing your own insulin in an emergency?

[Thanks to jwrm22 for the tip]

35 thoughts on “Synthesizing Daraprim To Beat Price Gougers

  1. inb4 the inevitable pricing controversy:

    I did this just as a challenge to show it could be done with domestically available chemicals. Not to show that drugs should have cheaper pricing. Actual drug pricing is much more complicated and factors in R&D expense, regulatory affairs, certifications and so on. If anything this video JUST shows that the cost of manufacturing is the smallest part of the price. The bigger cost is everything around it in bringing it market.

    Enjoy the video for what it is: a journey into making a drug at home. Not a commentary on the state of the pharma industry. The video completely ignores the greater issues.

    1. Thanks for making this video. You said inb4, so I’ll bite. I understand there’s complex causes behind the price of pharmaceuticals, but in your opinion why do you think it jumped from $13 to $750 per pill? Did they not factor in R&D and development costs correctly the first time, or was it more profit motivated? Seems like the R&D would be complete and the production line in place by then. I’m wondering if there are other complications I’m not thinking of.

      1. They have a 1) monopoly 2) the majority of their revenue in the US comes from insurance companies.

        I don’t think anyone questions that, anywhere either of those is not true and the price falls significantly.

        1. Monopoly? over a generic molecule? how is it even possible?

          No, you have a totally f*cked health system that’s all. It’s basicaly “how much will you pay for your essential medecine?”, aka extortion.

          1. > Monopoly? over a generic molecule? how is it even possible?

            Turing the Swiss company that controls the supply of Daraprim in the US limits distribution and would not give enough for a third parties to do an “equivalence study”.

            The market for Daraprim is too small for a US company to bother competing with Turing in the US.

            Contrary to popular thought, you don’t simply make a drug in your kitchen and then start selling it to people and hospitals. Unless that drug is Meth. Otherwise it’s a long process, making drugs at large scales fit for human consumption is a trade secret.

            Maybe you could work it out by analysing Daraprim, good luck getting enough to do that with.

            Once you do that you will need to show it works at least as well (non-inferior) to Daraprim. Good luck since Turing wont give you any.

            Lets say you’ve done that, you now have a marketable Daraprim, worldwide it’s pennies per pill, in the US it’s 75$ each.

            But how long do you think you can compete against Turing? Who have a large stock, have distribution networks? They will undercut you all the way.

            Daraprim is a monopoly despite being a generic because there is one well established producer and distributor, a small market and they have no interest and no obligation to let you join the market. And the market is not worth joining.

      2. Daraprim is a 62-year old drug. R&D and development costs are well sunk.

        “Shkreli explained the price hike regret. “I could have raised it higher and made more profits for our shareholders, which is my primary duty,” he said.”

      3. Also, it’s quite cheap nearly everywhere EXCEPT the US. Especially in countries where Malaria is a problem and it’s used for that. See Wikipedia:
        In India, over a dozen pharmaceutical companies manufacture and sell pyrimethamine tablets, and multiple combinations of generic pyrimethamine are available for a price ranging from US$0.04 to US$0.10 each (3–7 rupees).

        In Brazil, the drug is available for R$0.07 a pill, or about US$0.02.

        1. It’s like that with other drugs as well.

          Take Sensipar – used for parathyroid conditions, here in the U.S. it costs over $100 per pill. In India and sold under other name it’s around $3.00.

          Or take for example Scorpion anti-venom – it’;s around $150 a dose in Mexico and IMS $10,000 here in the U.S.

      4. From memory of an interview Martin Shkreli did to address the price hike, he basically said because he could. He thought it was too cheap for what it did and if you valued your life you would be prepared to pay that amount.

    2. You’ll have to excuse HAD they have a habit of politicising everything, even when you point out the actual facts of the matter in your video. It has been an incredibly valuable educational journey for many people who have followed you though the entire process and sensible types thank you for that. If people need cheap pharmaceuticals they can put together a buying group and get almost anything synthesised for them in China or India, but then they would have learned nothing about chemistry and the practical difficulties of doing it on a small scale.

      1. I’m sorry, but where exactly did [Lewin] politicize anything? The only hint of the controversy about Daraprim is a mention of [Martin Shkreli] and a link to find out more. [Lewin] could hardly have written this up without acknowledging the relationship between pyrimethamine and [Shkreli]. I think he did a great job of NOT politicizing this, as did [NurdRage] when he undertook this massive project.

        1. I have to agree the link to Martin Shkreli is completely justified since it gives context to the story as to why someone may want to synthesise this medication. Lewin also did not give or nor even hint at the politics that may be at play. He merely pointed out the fact a drug went from $13 to $750 and lightly pointing out there was a bit of a back story. I don’t think I could have written this piece in a more apolitical way.

      2. It’s a great video covering the synthesis of the pharmaceutical.

        Daraprim synthesis is more newsworthy than synthesizing something like paracetamol, given the public interest in recent history. Hence, we write an article and provide background as to why it merits attention.

        I for one would love to see more DIY synthesis projects, regardless of the product’s relevance to the news cycle.

        This just happened to be in the tip line, and a solid project at that.

    3. @NurdRage
      Please consider designing an amateur chemistry glassware Pyrex set for distillation/filtration, a decent digital scale, and a best practices lab booklet. Publish Indiegogo/kick-starter link for 100 kits to sponsor your open-lab for awhile, as a non-profit entity there are tax-breaks/grants for research facilities. You may be able to recoup some of your operating overhead, and fund larger projects.
      ;)

  2. There was no political tone to this post other than the science tone, the only tone that could be seen to be present was a business tone. Of course their will always the ignorant who will use misuse terms in a pejorative matter to criticize who or what they don’t like.

  3. No fan of Shkreli and his cohorts, yet one wonders whether amateur pharmacy is in it’s right place among articles targeted at hack enthusiasts? I’m no stranger to kitchen chemistry, yet am happy to leave stuff with potentially devastating health effects to those with real expertise, and access to real equipment and feed-stock resources.

    1. It’s more of a “because we can” or “there’s no reason to demand so much money for this” rather then “do this instead of buying real legit meds”, similar to doing some extreme hacks like casting your own engine block – you will hardly beat a commercial product.

  4. Daraprim is a monopoly despite being a generic because there is one well established producer and distributer, a belittled marketplace and they rent no stake and no responsibility to rent you get together the marketplace. I’m no unknown to kitchen chemical science, yet am glad to leave-taking stuff with potentially crushing wellness effects to those with real(a) expertness, and accession to real(a) equipment and feed-stock resources.

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