Since its founding a little over a year ago, Nebula Genomics has caught the public’s attention for its business model of sequencing consumers' genomes and then letting them trade that data for cryptocurrency. Yesterday the Boston, Massachusetts-based company announced that it landed $4.3 million in seed funding and that it would be partnering with Veritas Genetics, a genome sequencing company.
Contributions for the round came from Khosla Ventures, Arch Venture Partners, Fenbushi Capital, Mayfield Fund, F-Prime Capital Partners, Great Point Ventures, Windham Venture Partners, Hemi Ventures, Mirae Asset, Hikma Ventures, and Heartbeat Labs.
“As genome sequencing inches towards mass adoption, security and privacy concerns remain core barriers,” Robert Nelsen, managing director of Arch Venture Partners, one of the 10 venture capital firms backing the company, said in a statement. “Nebula’s team has architected a unique decentralized system that protects data while still making it easily accessible for researchers.”
A Harvard Medical School spin out, Nebula was cofounded by geneticist George Church, who has frequently made headlines for other genetic projects, including an attempt to revive the Woolly Mammoth.
Nebula’s plan is to sequence a participant's DNA for no out-of-pocket cost. People can then sell their data to researchers and receive Nebula tokens in exchange. A user is able to use these coins to purchase information about their genome sequencing and what it means in terms of their, and their future children's, health. The idea behind it is that it removes third-party vendors and lets people choose which researchers they would be willing to sell their data to.
The Veritas partnership will give Nebula access to its open-source software platform, Arvados. This partnership with Veritas has been coming down the pipeline for a while. In February, The Guardian reported that Nebula would team up with Veritas to do the actual genome sequencing. This is no surprise as Church was also a cofounder of Veritas, which now employs 125 scientists.
Earlier this year, cofounder Dennis Girshin, explained to MobiHealthNews that genomic sequencing typically comes with a hefty price tag of around $1,000, which puts it out of reach for many. While other companies like 23andMe can do genomic typing for less money, those services give consumers a smaller amount of data. The company plans to overcome both price and privacy concern hurdles with their model, according to Girshin.
Privacy issues have been a concern in the consumer genomics space. It is a common practice in the space for companies to sell aggregated data to third parties. Girshin said the company was created with this challenge in mind.
“Right now we have a chicken-and-egg problem we would like to break out of, because if you want to learn more from your genome, researchers have to have many genomes to analyze and better understand genetics. But for them to have many genomes to analyze, more people need to be sequenced [and] there needs [to be] motivation,” Grishin told MobiHealthNews in February. “We need to break out of this dilemma, and we essentially are trying to do that by eliminating costs completely and removing the privacy issues.”
The company has also been taking a look at the industry as a whole. In May Nebula teamed up with Longenesis a Hong-Kong-based partnership between Insilico Medicine and the Bitfury Group that works on applying deep learning and blockchain to make a platform for the exchange of healthcare data — recently announced a collaboration to launch a new field of research, which they've dubbed life data economics.
“As a people-first firm and early-stage investor, we always begin with the entrepreneur as our first step,” Tim Chang of Mayfield, one of the venture capital firms backing the company, said in a statement. “Kamal and Dennis have a unique vision of leveraging blockchain to enable consumer genetic sequencing at scale, and the involvement of genomics pioneer George Church makes this a dream team. When you combine that with Nebula’s unique business model and incentive design, we believe the company can grow into a leading pioneer of the genomics age.”