Anarchist Takes On The Drug Industry With DIY Medicine

By Victoria Kim 10/13/17

Michael Laufer wants to give people the tools to make their own medicine.

Anarchist Develops Tools for DIY Medicine In Protest of High Drug Prices

A biohacker and math teacher is determined to disempower Big Pharma by giving people the tools to cook their own medicine

Michael Laufer is profiled in STAT News for his efforts as the “anarchist taking on the drug industry.” The 38-year-old math teacher by day is known for creating the EpiPencil, a cheaper $35 alternative to the EpiPen.

Drugmaker Mylan inspired public outrage last year when it raised the price of a two-pack of EpiPens to $600. Since 2009, the company increased the price of EpiPens 17 times, one lawsuit alleged—from $94 to $609.

Laufer’s plans for empowering the public to rely less on expensive prescription drugs include developing free recipes for people to follow at home, in addition to an “Apothecary MicroLab, a general purpose chemical reactor built from materials purchased online for about $100,” according to STAT.

By giving people free access to these recipes and resources, Laufer says the home medicine-making process “shouldn’t be harder than Ikea furniture.”

“To deny someone access to a lifesaving mediation is murder,” said Laufer. “An act of theft [of intellectual property] to prevent an act of murder is morally unacceptable.”

It’s still a very new and under-developed idea that’s far from a version simple enough for just any DIY drug maker. But some say that despite the idea being somewhat reckless and potentially dangerous, it’s Laufer’s message that’s really resonating with others.

“I’m not sure Michael’s really going to change the world, [but] he’s a symbolic force,” said Josiah Zayner, CEO of The Odin.

“Desperate times call for desperate measures,” said Dr. Vinay Prasad, a professor at Oregon Health and Science University. “He’s another symptom of the disease, and the disease is drug pricing.”

In 2015, smug “Pharma Bro” and CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, Martin Shkreli, incited outrage when his company decided to raise the price of Daraprim—a drug designed to treat parasitic infection common to people with cancer and AIDS or any condition characterized by weakened immune systems—from $13.50 to $750 per pill.

A congressional investigation uncovered 25,000 pages of Turing documents that revealed Shkreli’s sole motivation for the price hike: “to exploit an existing monopoly and make millions before competitors could enter the market.” 

“We raised the price from $1,700 per bottle to $75,000,” Shkreli was quoted as saying in one email. “Should be a very handsome investment for all of us.”

This type of behavior is what Laufer is hoping to quash. STAT observed that the biohacker “exudes a crusader’s determination to ‘transcend the cult of the expert’ as a way to fight what he sees as unconscionable corporate profiteering by drug makers.”

One of the home drug recipes he’s working on is for Sovaldi, the drug by Gilead Sciences for treating hepatitis C. A 12-week treatment of Sovaldi costs $84,000. Laufer says his recipe will cost $800.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr