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Sequencing company proposes trading genetic information for cryptocurrency

12 February 2018
Appeared in BioNews 937

A new sequencing firm founded by geneticists has announced its plan to analyse customers' genomes cheaply and allow them to sell their own genomic information for digital money. 

Nebula Genomics, founded by Harvard University geneticist Professor George Church, Dennis Grishin and Kamal Obbad, intends to sequence customers' genomes for under US$1000. Individuals' genomic data will be secured in blockchain - the technology which underpins cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, and then customers can choose to sell their genome data directly to biotech or pharma companies, according to a white paper released by the firm. 

The company claims it can make several improvements on genetic sequencing offers by established companies. One is lowering the cost, because people can join a network and fill out personal surveys, such as their medical data. Data buyers can then identify phenotypes of interest, such as ones pertaining to specific conditions, and offer to subsidise sequencing costs for those individuals. Lowering sequencing costs will incentivise more people to join the network to sell access to their genomic data, the firm anticipates. 

Interested buyers, including biotech and pharma companies will only be able to 'borrow' the genomic data. The data owners will remain anonymous but data buyers will need to be fully transparent, the firm says. The genome data and the transactions will be secured by the blockchain. 

At present, companies such as 23andMe and Ancestry.com can sell customers' genetic data to third parties with their consent, but individuals do not receive any of the profit from these sales. These companies do not sequence the whole genome of individuals, but rather use microarray-based genotyping, which has more limited information. In this method, roughly 600,000 DNA letters are located rather than the 6.4 billion assessed in whole genome sequencing. 

Some of the other opportunities Nebula Genomics intends to support are increased knowledge and resources about genetic variants that cause some people to experience adverse side effects from medications. Other areas of interest include preventive treatments, such as intervening with specific genes before they cause cancer

Obbad stated: 'The pitch to the average person is that you're not just monetising your genetic data, we're also going to provide you with insights, similar to what 23andMe and Ancestry.com do.'

SOURCES & REFERENCES
Blockchain-enabled genomic data sharing and analysis platform
Nebula Genomics |  7 February 2018
This new company wants to sequence your genome and let you share it on a blockchain
MIT Review |  7 February 2018
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