DIY Drugs: Turning The Tables On Overpriced Pharmaceuticals

Aaryan Harshith
4 min readJan 4, 2020


Imagine having to pay $75,000 for medication worth less than $100. As surprising as it as, that’s the harsh reality for consumers drug markets today, with pharmaceuticals hiking the prices of life-saving drugs faster than patients can empty their wallets.

In the past few decades, massive pharmaceuticals companies began buying out the rights to widely-used medicine, monopolizing the market, and legally robbing helpless consumers by hiking prices to absurd levels — and we should be worried.

The worrying scale of the drug price hike epidemic — Daraprim was just a piece of the bigger picture

For the example above, the drug in question was Daraprim, and it’s one of the most relied upon substances to treat parasitic diseases and patients with weak immune systems. In 2015; however, the drug was bought out by Turing pharmaceuticals, who immediately spiked the cost of the substance by almost 5,500%, translating to a ludicrous $750 per pill.

And the worst part?

Patients have no other choice but to follow along and go to financial extremes to afford these medications. Daraprim, along with many other expensive drugs, are some of the most necessary substances for global survival, landing on the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines, each earning their spots by having a major impact on the treatment of the widespread and aggressive diseases.

As Daraprim’s revenue nearly multiplied 15x with the price hike, of course, its rivals followed suit. Nowadays, substances as integral as insulin for diabetes and epinephrine for allergic reactions are distancing themselves further and further away from financial reality for the majority of their consumers.

As a result, buyers have been forced to beg, borrow, and steal for treatment, ultimately for their survival.

In the case of Daraprim, over a billion people rely on the treatment it would provide. The drug was originally synthesized as a treatment for the severe effects of toxoplasmosis, a parasitic disease that silently affects up to 50% of the population in developing countries such as Brazil and India.

Giving Pharma A Taste Of Its Own Medicine

Fortunately, patients may not have to face this grim reality for much longer. All over the world, groups of citizen scientists, chemists, and biohackers are challenging this situation head-on.

From synthesizing insulin for pennies to recreating Daraprim for a thousandth of its price, these groups are, in every way, humiliating and threatening the very existence of big pharma companies.

Most notably, a group of 17-year-old Australian students captured the world’s attention by synthesizing Daraprim (Pyrimethamine) as early as 2016 using materials already available at their high-school chemistry lab.What was more astounding was that they successfully synthesized 3.7 grams for $2 instead of the $110,000 it would have cost in the US.

The group of persistent 17-year-olds that recreated Daraprim as a gesture towards Turing Pharmaceuticals

The effort doesn’t just end there either — a group of biohackers operating and communicating completely online successfully “pirated” a low-cost version of a $1 million gene therapy called Glybera, a drug used to treat a rare condition known as lipoprotein lipase deficiency.

Currently, the group plans to tackle a newly-released gene therapy called Zolgesma, a drug used to treat spinal muscular dystrophy that retails for a not-so-cool $2.1 million.

With developments starting in the upcoming months, regardless of the final outcome of its new project, the biohackers successfully made a dent in the reputation of lab-synthesized drugs by creating almost DIY-like alternatives, without sacrificing quality.

Just by taking a glimpse at open-source pharmaceutical breakthroughs, it’s easy to see how the field’s popularity is sky-bound — not only are alternatives to existing medications being found and recreated, but new treatments entirely.

Recently, a highly controversial group known as Ascendance Biomedical developed, and injected gene therapy drugs into their willing employees, all while streaming it live on Facebook.

No matter how controversial the matter, however, people agree that the implications are remarkable. Chemists and biohackers from have been working on gene therapies for previously incurable diseases such as HIV and lactose intolerance, with the lactose intolerance therapy successfully working on the biohacker who tested it on himself.

How a Florida-based biohacker cured himself of his lactose intolerance

The therapy essentially consisted of a virus that would cut and paste a loop of DNA known as a plasmid into his body that would allow him to properly produce lactase and other enzymes necessary for the digestion of dairy-based products.

In a nutshell, innovation in open-pharma isn’t stopping, and judging from progress now, it doesn’t look like it will anytime soon. With big pharma companies essentially robbing people in exchange for drugs to ensure their survival, we can at least be sure that some people won’t turn a blind eye. The drug price hike epidemic affects all of us — if not now, then likely in the future when a friend or a family member needs it the most, and it’s comforting to think that there’s still hope for them.

Thank you for reading.