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What does an ex-Pharma Bro do next? If it's Shkreli, it's an AI Dr bot

Martin, for it is him, tells El Reg: 'We've looked around for a real LLM-powered chatbot'

Just because you're banned from the pharmaceutical industry for life, that doesn't mean you can't launch a medical chatbot to dispense advice.

On Thursday, Martin Shkreli, released last year from a seven-year stint in prison for securities fraud, announced the availability of Dr Gupta. The controversial entrepreneur described the project as "The world's first physician chatbot," in a tweet on Thursday.

That's a dubious claim. There are already other "physician chatbots." A great many in fact.

Asked about this via Twitter Direct Message, Shkreli told The Register, "Let me know what's out there – we've looked around for a real LLM-powered chatbot. Most of the things out there will not really talk to you."

Dr Gupta, Shkreli said, is based on ChatGPT and other unspecified proprietary services. He said the name wasn't racial stereotyping, but derived from GPT.

"We use a fairly intricate prompt topology to get what we feel are a lot better answers than ChatGPT alone," he said. "And we're certainly exploring our own solutions."

The Register also asked, "Do you have any concern people may get bad advice from the model and follow that advice, leading to harm?"

That question went unanswered. Dr Gupta does come with a warning that the bot is not providing actual medical advice.

Dr. Gupta Disclaimer screenshot

Cool, cool ... Dr Gupta's disclaimer statement

The California Medical Board, which oversees the licensing of medical professionals in the state, said Dr Gupta didn't fall under the group's purview.

"The Board licenses and regulates physicians and surgeons and certain allied health professionals," a spokesperson told The Register in an email. "The Board has no jurisdiction over AI chatbots or websites where the individual or entity is not claiming to be licensed to practice medicine or an allied health profession in California."

Price gouger wants cheaper medicine

"Years ago, I became the poster child for healthcare cost inflation," he said on Twitter. "Pharma is only 12 percent of healthcare costs, but seems to get 90 percent of the blame."

"I created Dr Gupta to actually address healthcare costs. A large amount of healthcare information requests and decisions can be done by AI."

By "poster child for healthcare cost inflation," Shkreli appears to be referring to US District Court Judge Denise Cote's finding in January 2022 that Shkreli coordinated an unlawful, anticompetitive scheme to control the market for Daraprim, an important anti-parasitic drug for treating toxoplasmosis.

"In 2015, Martin Shkreli raised the price of the life-saving pharmaceutical Daraprim by 4,000 percent and initiated a scheme to block the entry of generic drug competition so that he could reap the profits from Daraprim sales for as long as possible," the judge wrote.

The judge banned Shkreli for life [PDF] "from directly or indirectly participating in any manner in the pharmaceutical industry" and fined him $64.6 million, penalties that Shkreli's attorneys are still arguing to have overturned or reduced..

Shkreli, shortly after being let out of prison, last year launched Druglike, "a decentralized science (DeSci) drug discovery Web3 platform" that the company's press release [PDF] insisted "is not a pharmaceutical company."

The US Federal Trade Commission is not so sure. In January the FTC asked Judge Cote to hold Shkreli in contempt "for failing to provide the FTC with information needed to determine whether he is violating a previous order by the judge that banned him from working in the pharmaceutical industry for life."

Last month, Shkreli's legal team wrote [PDF] to the judge to say that their client intends to comply with the court order, even as he appeals Judge Cote's decision before the US Second Court of Appeals.

Meanwhile, attorneys representing Dr Thomas Koestler, a creditor of Shkreli's in a separate legal judgment [PDF], wrote to the court to complain that a $2.6 million penalty assessed in 2017 still had not been paid [PDF].

Asked whether there's anything he'd care to say about his ongoing legal issues, Shkreli declined to comment. "I believe appeals will be successful," he said.

The FTC declined to comment. ®

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