Collaboration aims to bring blockchain to healthcare data
May 22, 2018
A blockchain healthcare start-up led by Harvard genomics professor George Church (pictured) has initiated a research collaboration with a blockchain and artificial intelligence healthcare company to handle life data.
The collaboration is between Nebula Genomics, a San Francisco-based company co-founded by genomics pioneer Church that is using blockchain to build a marketplace for genomic and clinical data, and Longenesis, a Hong Kong-based partnership between Insilico Medicine and the Bitfury Group, which is applying deep learning and blockchain technologies to make a platform for the exchange of healthcare data.
"By allowing individuals and large data providers such as biobanks to maintain ownership of their genomic data on our platform and profit from it, Nebula Genomics seeks to incentivise generation of genomic data," said Church. “In doing so, we will gather the data on a single network where it can be conveniently and securely accessed by researchers. In other words, we will make a marketplace that will create an equitable and efficient economy for genomic data. Longenesis has built a similar platform that instead focuses on longitudinal health data, so our platforms complement one another very well.”
The economy for life data is currently inefficient because data of a particular type are often fragmented across many different parties that each own some of the data.
"Currently, acquiring genomic data is a slow and costly process, because researchers at pharma and biotech companies have to manually inquire about data availability, negotiate prices, sign contracts and make payments," said Dennis Grishin, CSO and co-founder of Nebula Genomics. “We will use smart contracts to automate data acquisition and make it several orders of magnitude faster.”
With limited access it also becomes difficult to determine the true value of the data because life data are often far more useful when analysed in large quantities at once. Additionally, it is often impossible to determine the true value of a specific type of data unless they are analysed in tandem with another type of data. This is also made difficult by the current fragmented state of the life data market. For example, genomic data are far more useful when paired with electronic health records to provide phenotypic information.
"In the past, the value of human personal data was primarily defined by the profit potential from sales of goods and services," said Alex Zhavoronkov, founder and CEO of Insilico Medicine and CSO of Longenesis. “But with the advances in artificial intelligence and biotechnology we are moving into the new era where the various types of data collected over the lifetime can yield unprecedented healthcare benefits for the individual and for the economy. We need the new pricing and valuation models to assess the time, timing, relationship, resolution and combination value of life data in the context of health and longevity. We need the equivalent of the Black-Scholes model, to assess the value of and to price data, but with the many more greeks and orders of magnitude more complex. The intimate partnership with the Nebula Genomics team will help take this research to a new level.”
Nebula Genomics, Longenesis, Bitfury and Insilico Medicine seek to create platforms that use blockchain technology to establish a more efficient and equitable economy for the exchange of life data. Nebula Genomics, co-founded by Church along with Harvard researchers Kamal Obbad and Dennis Grishin, is building a platform that allows individuals to have their genomes sequenced and opt to provide them to data buyers directly through a secure blockchain-based network.
The platform will eventually support other types of clinical data. Longenesis is developing a platform that uses AI tools developed in collaboration with Insilico Medicine to store and exchange health-related data such as lab test results. The approach used by Longenesis research on the basic aspects of human life data economics was published in a peer-reviewed journal and the platform has launched in alpha and established proof of concept over a year-long pilot. Through this collaboration, the Longenesis network will be incorporated into the Nebula Genomics network while both teams continue working together on the development of the platforms.
The collaboration will be geared towards determining the true value of life data. In approaching this problem, the groups will establish two fields. The first is microdataeconomics, the study of the value of life data that are used for drug discovery such as proteomics or data regarding the structure and activity of specific molecules, both in vitro and in vivo. The second is macrodataeconomics, the study of the value of life data that are used to determine human health such as electronic health records and genomics.
The combined Nebula and Longenesis platform should help determine the value of life data by bringing huge amounts of data of many different types onto a single platform where they can be conveniently and securely accessed by researchers.
"We are very happy to join forces with the Nebula Genomics team to unlock the value of data in many new and previously unimaginable ways," said Garry Zmudze, co-founder and managing director of Longenesis. “Today, the data are being valued for their utility to generate sales revenue or using the cost to generate the data as a base. But in the context of healthcare and preventative medicine the value of the data and the way we collect and combine them will be dramatically different. This joint effort is likely to contribute to the global economic growth.”
Insilico Medicine is an artificial intelligence company headquartered at the Johns Hopkins University campus in Baltimore, with R&D and management resources in Belgium, Russia, UK, Taiwan and Korea sourced through hackathons and competitions.
The Bitfury Group is a full-service blockchain technology company and one of the largest private infrastructure providers in the blockchain ecosystem.