‘Pharma bro’ Martin Shkreli launches new crypto-drug discovery business

‘Pharma bro’ Martin Shkreli, the former pharmaceutical executive best known for hiking the price of a life-saving drug by 4,000% and then going to prison, is getting into a new business.

He plans to debut a software platform called Druglike that provides resources for people or organizations “looking to start or contribute to early-stage drug discovery projects.” The company’s goal is to “democratize the access, cost and rewards of early-stage drug discovery,” according to its Twitter profile.

Drug discovery and development takes a lot of time and money, and requires Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval. On average, the process from identifying a drug to its FDA approval could take 10 years and cost $1.3 billion, Druglike said.

Druglike, announced publicly on Monday, plans to offer a cloud-based, decentralized service that provides “in silico” computing programs for identifying and designing drugs—the same software that big pharma firms use. It will also incorporate a blockchain verification system whereby contributors can earn rewards paid out in a new cryptocurrency called Martin Shkreli Inu (MSI).

Through the platform, anyone with web access can discover the “next breakthrough [in] medicine, Shkreli said in a statement. “A wide pool of innovators and contributors, rather than only pharmaceutical giants, [could] profit from drug discovery,” he added.

“It’s kind of like, my revenge on the pharma industry to some extent. It’d be fascinating if like, the next big medicine came out because… 20,000 computers of volunteers made it instead of [say], Merck,” he told the Daily Mail.

In January, a federal judge slapped Shkreli with a lifetime ban from the pharmaceutical industry. It’s unclear whether his new project violates this ban, although Druglike states that it’s “not a pharmaceutical company” nor engaged in drug development. Still, two attorneys general are already investigating Druglike, according to The Daily Beast. A spokesperson for North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein, told the publication that his office was “concerned about this development and will be taking a closer look.” The New York attorney general’s office is also looking into Shkreli’s new venture.

In 2015, when Shkreli was CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, he raised the price of Daraprim—a drug that treats a specific parasite infection that’s particularly threatening for people with compromised immune systems, like those with HIV/AIDS—to $750 from $13.50 per tablet. The move sparked widespread condemnation. He denied the price hike was excessive, and told CBS at the time that he was simply “a capitalist.” I’m trying to create… a profitable drug company.”

But by 2018, a federal court sentenced Shkreli to seven years in jail finding him guilty of three counts of securities fraud. Shkreli was accused of defrauding investors out of millions of dollars that they gave to his two hedge funds, then swindled cash and stocks from another biotech company that he founded to repay those investors. He was released from prison in May.

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