Yesterday Nebula Genomics announced it’s partnering with biopharmaceutical business EMD Serono, a Merck subsidiary. The aim is for EMD Serono to access anonymized genomic data for developing new drugs.
Nebula’s genome sequencing is stored in a conventional centralized system, but access and sharing of the data are controlled by individuals using blockchain.
Last year the company raised a $4.3 million seed round from several venture capital companies including Khosla, Fenbushi Capital, and Mayfield.
“This collaboration pioneers a new business model in personal genomics that benefits both individuals and researchers such as those at EMD Serono,” said Dennis Grishin, Chief Scientific Officer of Nebula Genomics.
“We want to help patients benefit from their data and also empower them to actively contribute to research. Our goal is to spearhead a more patient-centric approach to medical research where pharmaceutical companies and patients are working together to accelerate drug development.”
Last year DNA testing company 23andme suffered a backlash when it signed a deal with Glaxo SmithKline. When 23andme customers are tested, they can opt into sharing data. The difference with Nebula is it gives individuals greater control, potentially compensates them or enables free testing.
Nebula’s goal is to make personal genome sequencing free. To date, it has provided hundreds of people with low-coverage whole-genome sequencing free of charge. But for more expensive high coverage sequencing, it needs sponsors such as pharma and biotech companies and EMD Serono is an example.
For this pilot case, it’s offering a free high-coverage germline and tumor whole-genome sequencing for people with lung cancer. Patients will have full access to their data.
In addition to targeting patients with specific medical conditions, Nebula also envisions participating in large population studies of apparently healthy people, as well as clinical trial participants.
There are numerous other pharmaceuticals blockchain use cases. Embleema is also using blockchain for data, but not particularly genomic data, in its trials with Gustav Roussy Institut. Boehringer Ingelheim and IBM are working on using blockchain for clinical trials.