Martin Shkreli – the infamous former pharmaceutical director 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 trades in his own cryptocurrency, MSI, aka Martin Shkreli Inu.
The platform, which is still in the early stages of development, is called Fabric-likeaccording to a press release that circulated on July 25. Its goals are apparently lofty, but details are extremely sketchy, and Shkreli’s intentions have already drawn skepticism. It’s also unclear whether the company will drive Shkreli to the curb with him lifetime ban from the pharmaceutical industrywhich stemmed from the abrupt and callous 4,000 percent price increase of a life-saving drug that made him infamous.
Shkreli, who is named as a co-founder of Fabric-like, 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 in 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.”
In general, early-stage drug development can sometimes involve virtual screens to identify potential drug candidates. In these cases, pharmaceutical researchers first identify a “target” – a specific compound or protein that plays a crucial role in the development of a disease or condition. Then the researchers look for compounds or small molecules that can interfere with that target, sometimes binding or “docking” directly to the target in a way that prevents it from working. This can be done in physical laboratories 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
This is where Shkreli’s Druglike envisions coming in a white paper posted on Druglike’s website, Shkreli associate Jason Sommer lays out some concepts for how the company’s platform would work. Basically, 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 draws parallels 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 to incorporate blockchain concepts and cryptocurrency transactions when users perform tasks such as docking screens. For example, the paper describes a “proof-of-optimization” concept as a “new” 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,” writes Sommer in the newspaper.
However, so far the white paper only loosely describes these concepts and it is unclear how the cryptocurrency transactions will generate value. It is also unclear how the project will be financed, although an online exchange suggested that the company could look like 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 about the project.
In that conversation, he scoffed at the idea that the platform would break his lifetime ban from the pharmaceutical industry, saying the project only involves developing software, not medicine. “Writing some code in Github and hitting ‘go’ doesn’t make you a pharmaceutical company,” he said.
This story originally appeared on Ars Technica.