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Genomics-Blockchain Company Launches, Raises $4.3 Million

Blockchain network graphic

(TheDigitalArtist, Pixabay)

29 August 2018. A new enterprise that promises to collect and protect a person’s genomic data with blockchain technology is starting up with the help of a genomics legend and $4.3 million in seed financing. Nebula Genomics, co-founded by Harvard University geneticist and serial entrepreneur George Church, also announced a partnership with Veritas Genetics, another George Church-founded company.

Nebula Genomics in Boston and San Francisco, aims to make collecting genomic data easier and put sharing the data under more control of the individual. The company says biotech and pharmaceutical companies are eager to get access to genomic sequencing data for developing new personalized treatments, but often need to get these data from different sources, as well as allay the fears of people concerned about keeping their data private, where sharing genomic data could result in unforeseen or unintended consequences.

Whole genomic sequencing reveals the order of nucleic acids, the chemical building blocks in a person’s DNA that contains the individual’s entire genetic code, providing critical information about one’s present and future health. Most other personal genomic analysis services that charge low fees look at parts of the genome to determine ancestry or predisposition to certain diseases.

The first part of Nebula Genomics’ mission is getting an assist from Veritas Genetics that offers whole genome sequencing, and one of the first to offer whole genome sequencing to individuals for under $1,000. Veritas, founded in 2014 by George Church and others, is a spin-off company from Harvard Medical School and the Personal Genome Project, where people are encouraged to share their genomic data for research purposes. And also as reported in Science & Enterprise, Veritas Genetics in August 2017 acquired Arvados, a genomics data management system that makes available its software as open-source. With the help of Veritas, Nebula expects to integrate Arvados into its genomic data analysis and sharing services.

The company says the second part of its mission is fulfilled with blockchain, a technology linking online transactional ledgers or registries exchanging encrypted blocks of data that establish a form of trust between the parties. The blocks of data comprise the complete history of a transaction and are precisely time-stamped, enabling the blocks to be reconstructed into a chain documenting the transaction, thus the name. And because this ledger is distributed, there’s no single point of failure nor one institution (or big tech company) controlling it.

Both Arvados and blockchain are based on a distributed computing model, which is also the core of Nebula’s work. Dennis Grishin, Nebula Genomics’ co-founder and chief scientist explains today in an essay on Medium how the two parts of this model fit together. Arvados, Grishin notes, is a bioinformatics platform connecting data buyers, “directly with data owners including consumers, patients, and biobanks.” He adds, “Integrating Arvados with blockchain technology enables controllable and transparent data access sharing as well as equitable compensation of data contributors.”

A white paper published by the company provides more details about Nebula’s business model. The company plans to provide lower-cost full genome sequencing to individuals in exchange for taking part in paid health surveys. In addition, transactions with the company, including payments for access to one’s genomic data would be in a cryptocurrency based on blockchain.

Grishin’s essay also indicates Nebula Genomics is raising $4.3 million in seed capital from a group of technology and life sciences venture investors: Khosla Ventures, Arch Venture Partners, Fenbushi Capital, Mayfield, F-Prime Capital Partners, Great Point Ventures, Windham Venture Partners, Hemi Ventures, Mirae Asset, Hikma Ventures, and Heartbeat Labs.

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