This Startup Is Building a Market to Help You Sell Your DNA Data
(Bloomberg) -- A company that wants to help you sell your DNA data is getting backing from venture capital investors.
Nebula Genomics, co-founded by Harvard Medical School professor George Church, said 10 firms invested $4.3 million that it will use to create a secure marketplace for individuals’ genomes, the chemical codes that govern how organisms grow and operate, according to an emailed statement.
The backers include Khosla Ventures, Arch Venture Partners and Fenbushi Capital, and Nebula is working with genome sequencer Veritas Genetics International Ltd.
Thanks to genomic research, companies such as Alnylam Pharmaceuticals Inc. have been able to design drugs that precisely target flawed genes. Food giant Nestle SA wants to use genetic data to help design nutritional programs for customers. Yet developing and refining such products often requires access to massive stores of data that consumers and patients may be reluctant to part with because of concerns about privacy or whether their cooperation will be rewarded.
“Our investors, along with Veritas, share our commitment to lowering access barriers to genomic data, and solving one of the primary roadblocks preventing personalized medicine becoming a reality today,” said Kamal Obbad, Nebula’s chief executive officer and co-founder. “With this funding, we are moving closer to a new age in personalized medicine.”
Health data, especially genomic information, is seen as a gold mine for the companies that collect it as part of their business. Drugmakers including GlaxoSmithKline Plc are buying access to data from 23andMe Inc., a seller of DNA testing that’s created one of the world’s largest genetic databases. England’s National Health Service is working with Sensyne Health, started by former U.K. science minister Paul Drayson, to market anonymized patient data for research.
Nebula uses blockchain -- a technology for recording and verifying online transactions -- along with a platform developed by Veritas to allow individuals to upload genomic data and then share it with specific companies, researchers or other parties. Clients can also receive compensation for sharing their data through a cryptocurrency token-based system created by Nebula.
“This directly addresses consumer concerns over the practice of medical and genomic data brokers to sell personal health data to third parties,” according to the statement.
Church, a geneticist and leader of the Personal Genome Project that sequences people’s DNA for public use and research, has started up numerous genetics companies, including Veritas Genetics. He’s known for his lab’s contributions to the development of Crispr, a technique for editing genomes, and his “Jurassic Park”-like proposal to create hybrid embryos of the extinct woolly mammoth in the the laboratory.
More than a decade ago, he predicted that a rapid descent of costs to decode people’s DNA would revolutionize science and medicine. Insurers may find ways to use Nebula to reduce the number of infant births with rare genetic disorders through preventive matchmaking, Church said. For drugmakers, it might smooth the path to decoding the DNA of people with genetic diseases they want to address.
“Hopefully this will result in people not paying to get their genome and instead being paid for their genome,” he said in a telephone interview.
Other investors in the company are Mayfield, F-Prime Capital Partners, Great Point Ventures, Windham Venture Partners, Hemi Ventures, Mirae Asset, Hikma Ventures and Heartbeat Labs, according to the statement.
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