Who can save us from disease and despair in these harrowing times? Why, none other than Martin Shkreli, of course.
Yes, the widely despised ex-pharmaceutical executive currently serving a seven-year federal prison term for fraud is, in fact, humanity’s One True Savior… if only we’d let him out of jail for a few months.
In a brief document posted online this week, Shkreli and a small band of associates lay out scientific plans to develop a cure for COVID-19.
Numerous other drug developers—ones who are not in the slammer—are also working on treatments and vaccines to fight COVID-19. But those response efforts are “inadequate,” Shkreli argues. And he alone is qualified to get the job done right.
“I am one of the few executives experienced in ALL aspects of drug development from molecule creation and hypothesis generation, to preclinical assessments and clinical trial design/target engagement demonstration, and manufacturing/synthesis and global logistics and deployment of medicines,” he writes in a note at the end of the document.
In short, he needs to be sprung from the pokey so he can save the world.
“I am asking for a brief furlough (3 months) to assist in research work on COVID-19,” he writes, adding that this temporary freedom won’t be a treat. “Being released to the post-COVID world is no solace to even the incarcerated.”
In the rest of the document, Shkreli, two business associates, and two people listed as “citizen scientists” describe working through a fairly standard method for identifying drug candidates. They used computer models to try to search through publicly available libraries of compounds to find drug candidates. They looked for compounds that, based on their modeling, could target a key enzyme in SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
The enzyme they targeted in their screening is an essential viral enzyme called RNA-dependent RNA polymerase. This is what SARS-CoV-2 uses to make copies of its own genetic material. This is also a common viral target. The experimental antiviral drug remdesivir targets this polymerase, for instance.
Shkreli and colleagues report finding eight existing drugs that may be able to thwart SARS-CoV-2. Leading the eight candidates is clofazimine, an antibiotic used to treat leprosy.
“From here, many different research projects are currently in progress, including a continuation of current work around both the computational and manual design of analogs for highly scoring compounds such as clofazimine,” Shkreli and his colleagues write.
The document was published by Prospero Pharmaceuticals, a biotech company Shkreli and long-time associated Kevin Mulleady co-founded. Mulleady is the second author on the document.
Overall, their plan is “not crazy,” says Derek Lowe, a medicinal chemist and well-known pharmaceutical industry blogger. But in comments to biotech news outlet Stat, Lowe says that the unsavory saviors’ plan is not “particularly groundbreaking, either, at least to my eyes.”
In other words, it’s not likely to be a get-out-of-jail-free card.