DNA, health records, and blood test results are not only intimately personal, they are also a valuable asset to researchers. Recently a smattering of companies have been working to create a market for people to share and sell their personal data to researchers and healthcare players. Those efforts are going one step further, as two growing names in the health data and blockchain industry are teaming up.
Yesterday Nebula Genomics — a startup that uses blockchain to build a marketplace for genomic and clinical data — and 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.
In the last decade, health data has become increasingly available for researchers and clinicians in what some are calling the “big data revolution.” The data has proven to be an invaluable source for helping train artificial intelligence and assisting research and development — so much so that companies and researchers are willing to pull out their wallets for it.
The partners plan on creating platforms that uses blockchain technology to establish an economy for exchanging genetic data, health records, and other biological information, according to a statement. Currently, Longenesis uses AI to store and exchange health-related data and results, while Nebula uses blockchain to store participants' genomic data. The partnership's plan is to combine both of these technologies.
"In the past, the value of human personal data was primarily defined by the profit potential from sales of goods and services,” Alex Zhavoronkov, founder and CEO of Insilico Medicine and CSO of Longenesis, said in a statement. “But with the advances in artificial intelligence and biotechnology we are moving into the new era where the various types of data collected over the lifetime can yield unprecedented healthcare benefits for the individual and for the economy. We need the new pricing and valuation models to assess the time-, timing-, relationship-, resolution-, and combination-value of life data in the context of health and longevity.”
To determine the true value of these life data, the partnership aims to develop fields of data study specifically focused on drug discovery and overarching human health. With this, the partnership hopes to make data sharing more streamlined so researchers get a fuller picture of patients.
“Currently, acquiring genomic data is a slow and costly process, because researchers at pharma and biotech companies have to manually inquire about data availability, negotiate prices, sign contracts, and make payments. We will use smart contracts to automate data acquisition and make it several orders of magnitude faster,” Dennis Grishin, CSO and cofounder of Nebula Genomics, said in a statement.
In the past few years, cryptocurrency has become one avenue for buying and selling personal data. Cryptocurrency is a general term for digital tokens backed by blockchain, a technology that makes the currency easy to verify and difficult to falsify.
Nebula Genomics sequences participants’ genomes and then give users the agency to sell their personal data to researchers and pharmaceutical companies via a cryptocurrency. It also stores the participant’s genetic information in a blockchain based network.
Cofounder Dennis Grishin said Nebula was developed after identifying several issues within the field of genomics, including high cost, privacy concerns, and the need for more data.
Creating a marketplace, however, could encourage people to share their data and help research.
"By allowing individuals and large data providers such as biobanks to maintain ownership of their genomic data on our platform and profit from it, Nebula Genomics seeks to incentivize generation of genomic data,” George Church, cofounder of Nebula Genomics and professor at Harvard and MIT, said in a statement. “In doing so, we will gather the data on a single network where it can be conveniently and securely accessed by researchers. In other words, we will make a marketplace that will create an equitable and efficient economy for genomic data. Longenesis has built a similar platform that instead focuses on longitudinal health data, so our platforms complement one another very well.”