Martin Shkreli – the notorious Ex-pharma executive fresh out of prison after being convicted of fraud in 2017, this week announced his latest, eyebrow-raising venture: the creation of a blockchain-based Web3 drug discovery platform powered by his own cryptocurrency, MSI, aka Martin Shkreli Inu.
The platform, which is still in the early stages of development, is called Druglike, according to a press release circulated on July 25. Their goals are said to be lofty, but details are extremely sketchy, and Shkreli’s intentions have already drawn skepticism. It’s also unclear whether the Shkreli company will breach its lifetime ban from the pharmaceutical industry, which stems from the abrupt and callous 4,000 percent price increase of a life-saving drug that has made it notorious.
Shkreli, who is credited as a co-founder of drug-like, says the platform aims to make early-stage drug research more affordable and accessible. “Druglike will remove barriers to early-stage drug discovery, encourage 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 located in developing markets, will also benefit from access to these tools.”
In general, 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 crucial role in the development of a disease or condition. Then researchers look for compounds or small molecules that might interfere with that target, sometimes binding or “docking” directly to the target so that it doesn’t work. This can be done in physical laboratories using huge libraries of compounds in high-throughput chemical screens. But it can also be done virtually, with specialized software and lots of computing power, which can be resource intensive.
concepts and questions
This is where Shkreli’s Druglike comes into play. In a white paper published on Druglike’s website, Shkreli contributor Jason Sommer lays out some concepts for how the company’s platform works. Essentially, it would use a decentralized computer network of task providers, solvers, and validators that would run and optimize the virtual screening of drug candidates. The white paper shares similarities with 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 integrating blockchain concepts and cryptocurrency transactions as users perform tasks like screen docking. For example, 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 proofing solutions belong to which solvers. Smart contracts allow rewards to be safely distributed to the solver that possesses the verified evidence,” 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 has suggested the venture could look like for venture capital financing.
In that conversation, he scoffed at the idea that the platform would violate his lifetime ban from the pharmaceutical industry, saying that the project involves only software development and no drugs. “Writing some code on Github and hitting go doesn’t make you a pharmaceutical company,” he said.
This story originally appeared on Ars Technica.