The founders believe that a combination of data security, privacy and monetary incentives in the form of bitcoin will encourage people to share their individual genomic results from 23andMe, AncestryDNA, Helix, Human Longevity and others.
Genomics, meet blockchain. San Diego-based Luna DNA is crossing the scientific with the cyber to amass genetic data and hopefully drive discovery. This week, the company announced $2 million in startup funding to build their data infrastructure and start the outreach process. They want people to share their genomic data and then, hopefully, profit.
“We’re allowing individuals to contribute their personal genome and health data to help the greater good, to drive genomic discovery,” said founder and CEO Bob Kain in a phone interview. Previously, Kain was chief engineering officer at Illumina. “As individuals contribute their data, they become members of the community, and then they get coin.”
That’s where blockchain comes in. Contributors receive Luna Coins, a virtual currency, and partial ownership of the database. The bitcoins themselves are ERC20 tokens, based on the Ethereum blockchain. The system helps Luna organize and incentivize a community while protecting each member’s privacy.
The founders believe this combination of data security, privacy and monetary incentives will encourage people to share their individual genomic results from 23andMe, AncestryDNA, Helix, Human Longevity and others. Eventually, the company will also include data from health surveys and medical records. This database would constitute an enormous population health asset, which Luna and their clients could interrogate to identify potential drug targets.
“A pharma company would come and say: ‘Here are the symptoms or analytical test results that will help us define a cohort,’” said Kain. “And we will go into our database and see we have 20,000 individuals who match with a 90 percent confidence level. The pharma will then say: ‘What’s the same in their genomes and different in the control group?’”
Luna hopes this consolidated database will take people’s de-identified genomic information, which is essentially lying fallow in the cloud, and make it useful. The more useful it becomes, the more Luna Coins flow through the system.
“When we get enough data to drive discovery, pharma will pay to access the database and pay with coin, which will flow back to individuals in the community,” said Kain.