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Australian Students Synthesize Daraprim for Just $2

DEC 03, 2016 | SARAH ANWAR
In the wake of a Zika epidemic, the world seems to have forgotten that other infectious diseases, such as toxoplasmosis, can also cause life-changing sequelae in pregnant women and their developing fetuses. Treatment for this infection (Daraprim) is quite costly in the United States—$750 per pill—however, students from an Australian high school have found a way to manufacture it for under $5. Whether or not this discovery will lead to a cheaper treatment option for those who are suffering with the infection remains to be seen.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), toxoplasmosis has among the highest rates of death related to food-borne illnesses. This disease is caused by Toxoplasma gondii. Although infection with this parasite does not always cause serious symptoms, infection can be detrimental in the immunocompromised, elderly, newborns, infants, and pregnant individuals. 

What Complications Are Caused by Toxoplasmosis?

Infection during pregnancy can affect fetal development, causing abnormally large or abnormally small head size; toxoplasmosis can also result in miscarriage or stillbirth. Furthermore, 20% to 80% of infants congenitally infected with toxoplasmosis develop eye lesions, which may lead to “an acute inflammatory lesion of the retina, which resolves leaving retinochoroidal scarring." Acute eye disease can lead to serious eye pain, photophobia, eye tearing, and blurry vision. Immunocompromised individuals, such as those with HIV-positive infections, are reported to experience the most serious symptoms, including fever, confusion, headache, seizures, nausea, and poor coordination, according to the CDC. 

What is the Incidence of Toxoplasmosis?

The World Health Organization reported on the global burden of congenital toxoplasmosis in a study published in the 2013 issue of the Bulletin of the World Health Organization. According to this study, “Toxoplasmosis is present in every country and seropositivity rates range from less than 10% to over 90%.” The CDC also reported that 22.5% of the US population above the age of 12 years was infected with the parasite. 

Daraprim to Treat Toxoplasmosis

Treatment options for toxoplasmosis include pyrimethamine and sulfadiazine plus folinic acid. Pyrimethamine and sulfadiazine are both included in WHO’s List of Essential Medicines. As such, it came as no surprise that when the cost of Daraprim, the brand name for the generic pyrimethamine, skyrocketed from $13.50 a pill to $750 a pill, people were infuriated, and Martin Shkreli, CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals (the drug company that acquired Daraprim and raised its price) was dubbed “the most hated man in America,” by BBC.

Big advances in treatment can