George Church, Professor of Genetics, Harvard Medical School

George Church, Professor of Genetics, Harvard Medical School

A genomics startup co-founded by genetics pioneer George Church said yesterday that it seeks to lead the genomic data market by utilizing blockchain, the technology that underlies transactions of cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin. 

In other words, Nebula Genomics will give you cryptocurrency in exchange for your genetic data.

The company will do so by significantly reducing the costs of personal genome sequencing, give you insights about it, secure it using blockchain, and allow you to do whatever you want with the data.

“It’s a new approach to challenges of genomics, including sequencing costs, genetic data protection, data management, and genomics big data,” Church said, reports STAT. “We have the initial $600,000 investment that we sought,” from an angel investor. By the end of the week, said co-founder Dennis Grishin, it expects to have raised an additional $1 million.

Blockchain—The End of Privacy Concerns in Genomic Data Handling?

Today, human genome sequencing costs less than $1000, and in a few years, it’s believed to drop below $100. Very few people have had their genome sequenced, partly because of concerns about privacy and genetic discrimination, but also because of costs, and this is the key motivation behind Nebula, according to Grishin.

In a whitepaper published yesterday, Church and his colleagues reason that the sequencing price-drop will make personal genome sequencing widely adopted, enabling better diagnosis, disease prevention, and personalised therapies.

If this genomic data is shared with researchers, the causes of many diseases will be identified and new drugs will be developed, creating a genomic data market worth millions of dollars.

Right now, a barrier to wider adoption is how personal genomics companies like 23andMe own the data of paying customers, and sell it to big pharma companies for millions of dollars.

On the contrary, Nebula wants to eliminate the middleman by sequencing people’s entire genomes and let them own it— allowing them to earn digital money by sharing it. 

Industry Collaboration Needed for Blockchain Success

“The pitch to the average person is that you’re not just monetizing your genetic data,” says Obbad, one of Nebula’s cofounders. “We’re also going to provide you with insights, similar to what 23andMe and do.” For example, Nebula will tell be able to tell you about your disease risks.

Obbad says people will be able to join the platform sometime within the next few months.

LunaDNA and EncrypGen are both startups who build platforms where people can sell their genetic information online, but these services don’t offer genome sequencing. 

Illumina Veterans Back Genomic Platform Powered by Blockchain Technology with $2 Million