There are a lot of people struck down by terrible diseases and poverty. Unfortunately, the desperately needed medicines are nowadays hard to get due to their high prices. Sometimes it’s so because of high costs of production. But more often it is a fraud we should blame. For example, last year the sole U.S. manufacturer of Daraprim, Turing Pharmaceuticals, raised the price of the drug 5,500 percent, from $13 to $750 per pill. The same pill is available from Canadian online pharmacies for about $2 per pill. Fair enough? Available enough? For someone such costs mean death. That’s why Dr. Michael Laufer once stood up for the alternatives.
Dr. Michael Laufer: How Can People Get Unavailable Medicines

 

Meet the MicroLab

During the biennial computer-hacking conference Hackers On Planet Earth, or HOPE, Dr. Michael Laufer announced a project he’d been working on for four years – the Apothecary MicroLab. This device was created in one aim: helping people to take “back control of their own health”. In wake of dramatic increase of vital medicines prices, Laufer proposes his own way out for those who are in despair fighting for life.

The project consists of two parts. The first one is a jerry-rigged hardware setup, a DIY version of expensive automatic chemical mixers called controlled lab reactors that produce new compounds. Laufer’s version includes a cheap microcomputer connected to an apparatus of motorized stirring rods, heating coils, plastic tubes, and lidded mason jars.

Dr. Michael Laufer: How Can People Get Unavailable Medicines

The second part involves providing recipes for needed drugs. Laufer didn’t hesitate to show the true capability of his invention. In front of his HOPE audience he measured some white powder he said he’d synthesized using the Apothecary MicroLab and filled an empty gel capsule with it. The powder he used was a medication called pyrimethamine, an antimalarial commonly used to treat people infected with the toxoplasmosis parasite.

Dr. Michael Laufer: How Can People Get Unavailable Medicines

The idea

In 2015, Laufer was in Costa Rica when he was diagnosed with MRSA—a severe drug-resistant bacterial infection that’s notoriously difficult to treat. Doxycycline was the lifesaver, so almost healed the infection. But when Laufer returned to the US a few months later, he felt bad again and that made him face a terrible reality of diseased people. The drug he needed wasn’t available. He just couldn’t get it anywhere he sought. Laufer ended up buying Doxycycline on the black market. But this way isn’t open for all Americans who are in need.

Dr. Michael Laufer: How Can People Get Unavailable Medicines

This is how the idea of Apothecary MicroLab occurred. Firstly, in 2015 Laufer launched the Four Thieves Vinegar collective—a group of guerrilla hackers and scientists working to reverse-engineer critical pharmaceuticals and provide assistance with the synthesis of the compounds with the goal of providing “open-source” healthcare. The collective’s goal is to shift the balance of power for making crucial healthcare choices back into the hands of the individuals, empowering people to make DIY versions of drugs and medical devices in their own homes.

Dr. Michael Laufer: How Can People Get Unavailable Medicines

The collective’s name is rather remarkable. There was once a legend about four thieves who were sentenced to death but were made to clean the city infected with plague instead. The thieves were supposed to die in 24 hours but they stayed alive! No one had any idea how they did this. And the answer was quite surprising: the four thieves had just drunk a bottle of vinegar before turning to work. Why was the Laufer’s collective named like that? Maybe because it teaches people to save themselves like those thieves did – with their own hands.

Dr. Michael Laufer: How Can People Get Unavailable Medicines

 

Surely dangerous, but…

On its official website, Four Thieves Vinegar collective admits that homebrew meds are not that safe as people want to believe. There is always a risk and there are many reasons for that. “However if the choices presented to you are to die, because you cannot afford medication, or violate a copyright, which would you choose? We believe it is a just act of civil disobedience to produce one’s own medications in violation of patent law. If the medical infrastructure were able to function as it was imagined, then insurance systems would be in place to pay for medications, and there would be no need for this technology. We applaud the citizen groups, and the politicians all over the world who have been working to make that happen, but until we are there, there is a gap of need which we aim to fill.”

Dr. Michael Laufer: How Can People Get Unavailable Medicines

 

Laufer intends to provide the means for the public to create their own pharmaceuticals when no alternatives are available. He strongly believes that healthcare is an inalienable human right that supersedes any laws of property. As he explained to Vice, “There shouldn’t be anything keeping anybody from any query. What is the most fundamental human right? The rights we have over our own bodies and minds. We should have the ability to explore intellectually and treat our body in whatever way we see fit.”

Dr. Michael Laufer: How Can People Get Unavailable Medicines

Your choice

Of course, there is no guarantee that the medicine one creates will be a proper one. But what can a diseased and desperate person loose in case of his or her failure? It’s up to everyone to decide whether Apothecary MicroLab is worth using. However, this device is not only the way to treatment. It’s also an economical weapon against those entrepreneurs who act cruelly against diseased people by raising prices. Of course, Laufer and his team are not that strong and powerful rival to manufacturers. But “to do nothing is to be complicit,” Laufer said to The Parallax. “Every moment that we stand in inaction while people are dying because of intellectual-property laws, we’re complicit in their murder.”

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