An anarchist takes on Big Pharma

Teaching patients how to make their own meds

Dr. Michael Laufer of Four Thieves Vinegar demonstrates the “Epi-Pencil” in his office in Brawner Hall at Menlo College.

Credit: Biz Herman for STAT News.

by CHARLES PILLER @cpiller

MENLO PARK, Calif. — The anarchist grew animated as he explained his plan to subvert a pillar of global capitalism by teaching the poor to make their own medicines — pharmaceutical industry patents be damned.

Then he took another sip from a flute of Taittinger Champagne.

Swaggering, charismatic, and complex, Michael Laufer has become a fixture in the growing biohacker movement ever since he published plans last year for a do-it-yourself EpiPencil — a $35 alternative to the pricey EpiPen.

It’s not clear whether anyone has actually ever used a homemade EpiPencil to prevent anaphylactic shock. But that seems almost an afterthought to Laufer’s bigger goal — trying to build a DIY movement to attack high pharma pricing and empower patients.

“To deny someone access to a lifesaving medication is murder. And an act of theft to prevent an act of murder is morally acceptable.” —Michael Laufer

The de facto leader behind the leaderless collective Four Thieves Vinegar, Laufer is now on to his next project: He’s developing a desktop lab and a recipe book meant to equip patients to cook up a range of medicines, including a homemade version of the expensive hepatitis C drug Sovaldi, on their kitchen counters.

Health professionals have strenuously warned against DIY pharmaceuticals, but Laufer sees his work as a moral crusade against the patent laws and market forces that let drug companies price vital remedies out of reach for many patients.

“To deny someone access to a lifesaving medication is murder,” he said. And “an act of theft [of intellectual property] to prevent an act of murder is morally acceptable.”

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