Ge­nomics meets blockchain: Har­vard team fea­tur­ing George Church launch­es peer-to-peer genome se­quenc­ing start­up

George Church

George Church has long ad­vo­cat­ed for big da­ta in ge­nomics; his lab at Har­vard pi­lot­ed a project to col­lect and share vol­un­teers’ ge­nom­ic da­ta for col­lab­o­ra­tive re­search. Now, with two oth­er Har­vard-con­nect­ed founders, he’s tak­ing the shar­ing one step fur­ther by in­cor­po­rat­ing blockchain, the ledger sys­tem most fa­mous for pow­er­ing Bit­coin.

Neb­u­la Ge­nomics emerged from stealth mode Wednes­day with a whitepa­per — not a press re­lease — de­tail­ing its vi­sion. In that world, any­one can se­quence their genome at a low cost, glean in­sights from the re­sults, and have to­tal con­trol on what they want to do with them.

Cur­rent per­son­al ge­nomics play­ers like He­lix and 23andMe adopt a mod­el where the com­pa­nies func­tion as a mid­dle­man be­tween in­di­vid­u­als who want da­ta about their genome and phar­ma com­pa­nies will­ing to pay for that da­ta to use in drug de­vel­op­ment. Neb­u­la says it doesn’t want to be that mid­dle­man. In­stead, the in­di­vid­ual would be in the mid­dle in­ter­act­ing with both Neb­u­la and phar­ma com­pa­nies on a Neb­u­la-built plat­form.

To be sure, Neb­u­la is not the first com­pa­ny to mar­ry blockchain to ge­nomics. Lu­na DNA, a San Diego start­up found­ed by for­mer ex­ec­u­tives of genome se­quenc­ing gi­ant Il­lu­mi­na, is al­so build­ing a DNA data­base with blockchain. The key dif­fer­ence is that Lu­na would pay cus­tomers (in Lu­na coins) for the da­ta that it even­tu­al­ly sells to phar­mas, while Neb­u­la would stay out of the di­rect buy­ing and sell­ing, on­ly of­fer­ing an in­fra­struc­ture in which genome se­quenc­ing would be es­sen­tial­ly sub­si­dized.

Ac­cord­ing to the white pa­per, this ap­proach will re­sult in low­er se­quenc­ing costs (as com­pa­nies would es­sen­tial­ly sub­si­dize in­di­vid­u­als for the tests); more se­cure da­ta pro­tec­tion (blockchain is en­crypt­ed and anony­mous); and more ef­fi­cient da­ta ag­gre­ga­tion.

“It’s a new ap­proach to chal­lenges of ge­nomics, in­clud­ing se­quenc­ing costs, ge­net­ic da­ta pro­tec­tion, da­ta man­age­ment, and ge­nomics big da­ta,” Church told STAT.

Den­nis Gr­ishin

So what would the process look like? First off, the ac­tu­al se­quenc­ing will be done by Ver­i­tas Ge­net­ics, an­oth­er Church start­up. The pay­ment is where it gets fuzzy. The idea is cus­tomers would pay for the se­quenc­ing da­ta with Neb­u­la to­kens, its in-house cryp­tocur­ren­cy, which would be sold to phar­ma com­pa­nies for cash. The to­kens then cir­cu­late back to the cus­tomers as phar­ma com­pa­nies use them to pay for per­son­al da­ta. It’s un­clear how the cus­tomers would get the to­kens in the first place; whether to­kens would be of any val­ue to some­one who’s al­ready had their genome se­quenced al­so re­mains a ques­tion.

“We are not an­nounc­ing any to­ken sale at the mo­ment,” co-founder Den­nis Gr­ishin told STAT. “A to­ken is nec­es­sary for the func­tion­al­i­ty of our pro­to­col, but we have not de­cid­ed yet how they will be dis­trib­uted.”

Neb­u­la is now op­er­at­ing on an ini­tial $600,000 in­vest­ment from an an­gel in­vestor, Gr­ishin al­so said, and they ex­pect to have raised an ad­di­tion­al $1 mil­lion by the end of the week.

'Chang­ing the whole game of drug dis­cov­ery': Leg­endary R&D vet Roger Perl­mut­ter leaps back in­to work as a biotech CEO

Roger Perlmutter needs no introduction to anyone remotely involved in biopharma. As the R&D chief first at Amgen and then Merck, he’s built a stellar reputation and a prolific career steering new drugs toward the market for everything from cancer to infectious diseases.

But for years, he’s also held a less known title: science partner at The Column Group, where he’s regularly consulted about the various ideas the VCs had for new startups.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 104,600+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

The DCT-OS: A Tech­nol­o­gy-first Op­er­at­ing Sys­tem - En­abling Clin­i­cal Tri­als

As technology-enabled clinical research becomes the new normal, an integrated decentralized clinical trial operating system can ensure quality, deliver consistency and improve the patient experience.

The increasing availability of COVID-19 vaccines has many of us looking forward to a time when everyday things return to a state of normal. Schools and teachers are returning to classrooms, offices and small businesses are reopening, and there’s a palpable sense of optimism that the often-awkward adjustments we’ve all made personally and professionally in the last year are behind us, never to return. In the world of clinical research, however, some pandemic-necessitated adjustments are proving to be more than emergency stopgap measures to ensure trial continuity — and numerous decentralized clinical trial (DCT) tools and methodologies employed within the last year are likely here to stay as part of biopharma’s new normal.

UP­DAT­ED: Pfiz­er hits the brakes on their piv­otal tri­al for a BC­MA/CD3 bis­pe­cif­ic on safe­ty con­cerns while FDA road­block is hold­ing up Duchenne MD PhI­II

Pfizer’s ambitious plan to take a Phase II study of its BCMA CD3-targeted bispecific antibody elranatamab (PF-06863135) and run it through to an accelerated approval has derailed.

The pharma giant said in a release this morning that they have halted enrollment for their MagnetisMM-3 study after researchers tracked three cases of peripheral neuropathy in the ongoing Phase I. They are now sharing info with the FDA as they explore the red safety flag.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 104,600+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

FDA ex­tends re­search agree­ment with MIT-li­censed or­gan-on-chip sys­tems

The FDA on Wednesday extended its four-year agreement with CN Bio, a developer of single- and multi-organ-on-chip systems used for drug discovery, for another three years.

CN Bio said the scope of the research performed by the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research has expanded to include the exploration of the company’s lung-on-a-chip system to help with the agency’s evaluation of inhaled drugs, in addition to the agency’s work on its liver model.

Endpoints Premium

Premium subscription required

Unlock this article along with other benefits by subscribing to one of our paid plans.

In quest to meet user fee goals, FDA’s per­for­mance con­tin­ues down­ward trend

A recent update to the FDA’s running tally of how it’s meeting its user fee-related performance goals during the pandemic shows an agency that is not out of the woods yet.

The latest numbers reveal that for a second straight quarter in 2021, the FDA has met its user fee goal dates for 93% of original new drug applications, which compares with 94% and 98% for the previous two quarters in 2020, respectively.

Endpoints Premium

Premium subscription required

Unlock this article along with other benefits by subscribing to one of our paid plans.

Josh Bilenker, Endpoints JPM 2020

Josh Bilenker and Jeff En­gel­man bun­dle a moth­er lode of cash for their stealthy start­up, at­tract­ing a who's who of biotech in­vestors

Josh Bilenker and Jeff Engelman won’t be worrying about money for their stealthy startup anytime soon.

Late last week the pair filed a Form D for their new biotech Treeline Biosciences outlining a $212 million raise for their new company — which Bilenker founded around the time he ejected from his top position at Eli Lilly’s oncology group.

Their plan is to top out the raise at $220 million, but with Bilenker’s list of marquee investors on board for his latest creation, that won’t be much of a stretch.

Endpoints Premium

Premium subscription required

Unlock this article along with other benefits by subscribing to one of our paid plans.

Cynthia Butitta (L) and Joe Jimenez

Is that an­oth­er IPO in the mak­ing? Ex-No­var­tis CEO Joe Jimenez and a lead Kite play­er take up new posts at an off-the-shelf ri­val to 2 pi­o­neer­ing drugs

Right on the heels of taking on a $160 million crossover round in a likely leap to Nasdaq, Century Therapeutics CEO Lalo Flores is now pushing ahead with the high-profile ex-Novartis chief Joe Jimenez as chairman.

Jimenez’s greatest fame at Novartis was earned for one of its weakest products, as their pioneering personalized CAR-T Kymriah won the honors for the first such drug to make it to the market. Now a host of players, including Century, are barreling in behind the frontrunners with allogeneic rivals that can be created for off-the-shelf use.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 104,600+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Joe Wiley, Amryt CEO

A biotech with a yen for pricey rare dis­ease drugs — and bar­gain base­ment shop­ping — adopts an­oth­er or­phan in lat­est M&A pact

After making it through a long, painful haul to get past a CRL and on to an FDA approval last summer, little Chiasma has found a buyer.

Amryt $AMYT, a company known for its appetite for acquiring expensive drugs for rare diseases at bargain prices, snagged Chiasma and its acromegaly drug Mycapssa (octreotide) capsules in an all-stock deal — with an exchange of 0.396 shares of Amryt for every share of Chiasma.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Director general of WTO (AP Photo/Keystone/Alessandro Della Bella)

Opin­ion: Waiv­ing Covid-19 vac­cine IP could save lives, but where is the man­u­fac­tur­ing ca­pac­i­ty?

Droves of House Democrats in Washington and members of the European Parliament have now glommed onto a major push by India and South Africa at the WTO to abolish all IP around Covid-19 vaccines.

At first blush, waiving this IP sounds like an easy win: More Covid-19 vaccines made locally for more people means more lives saved. Simple enough, especially as low-income countries have received just a tiny fraction of the world’s vaccine allotment so far.