Martin Shkreli—the notorious ex-pharmaceutical executive fresh from prison after his 2017 fraud conviction—announced his latest, eyebrow-raising venture this week: the creation of a blockchain-based Web3 drug discovery platform that traffics in its own cryptocurrencyMSI, aka Martin Shkreli You.
The platform, still in the early development phase, is called Druglikeaccording to a press release that circulated on July 25. Its goals are ostensibly lofty, but the details are extremely sketchy, and Shkreli’s intentions have already drawn skepticism. It’s also unclear whether the company will run Shkreli afoul of him lifetime ban from the pharmaceutical industrywhich stemmed from the abrupt and callous 4,000 percent price hike of a life-saving drug that made him infamous.
Shkreli, who is named as a cofounder of Druglike, says the platform aims to make early-stage drug discovery more affordable and accessible. “Druglike will remove barriers to early-stage drug discovery, increase innovation and allow a broader group of contributors to share the rewards,” Shkreli said in the press release. “Underserved and underfunded communities, such as those focused on rare diseases or in developing markets, will also benefit from access to these tools.”
Generally, early-stage drug development can sometimes involve virtual screens to identify potential drug candidates. In these cases, pharmaceutical scientists first identify a “target”—a specific compound or protein that plays a critical role in developing a disease or condition. Then researchers look for compounds or small molecules that could interfere with that target, sometimes binding or “docking” directly to the target in a way that keeps it from functioning. This can be done in physical labs using massive libraries of compounds in high-throughput chemical screens. But it can also be done virtually, using specialized software and a lot of computing power, which can be resource-intensive.
Concepts and Questions
That’s where Shkreli’s Druglike is imagined to come in. In a white paper posted on Druglike’s website, Shkreli-associated Jason Sommer lays out some concepts for how the company’s platform would work. Essentially, it would use a decentralized computing network of task providers, solvers, and validators that would run and optimize the virtual screening of drug candidates. The white paper draws similarities to FoldIt, an online puzzle game that essentially uses distributed computing and crowdsourcing to fold proteins and predict their structures.
But Druglike’s platform is touted as incorporating blockchain concepts and cryptocurrency transactions when users complete tasks, such as docking screens. For instance, the paper describes a “proof-of-optimization” concept as a “novel” blockchain-based verification step for screening work, similar to Bitcoin’s “proof-of-work” method.
“We propose a blockchain-based implementation of Proof-of-Optimization, where a distributed ledger stores records of which proof solutions belong to which Solvers. Smart contracts allow secure distribution of rewards to the Solver who owns the verified proof,” Sommer writes in the paper.
But, for now, the white paper only loosely describes these concepts, and it’s unclear how the cryptocurrency transactions will generate value. It’s also unclear how the project will be funded, although an online exchange suggested that the company could look for venture capital financing.
On Twitter, where Shkreli has been banned, he currently has an account as Enrique Hernandez @zkEnrique7. From there, Shkreli announced the company on July 25 and hosted a conversation regarding the project.
In that conversation, he scoffed at the idea that the platform would breach his lifetime ban from the pharmaceutical industry, saying that the project only involves developing software, not drugs. “Writing some code in Github and pressing ‘go’ does not make you a pharmaceutical company,” he said.
This story originally appeared on Ars Technica.