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Startup Cofounded by George Church Marries Low-Cost Sequencing with Blockchain

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Subsidized Data for Academic Buyers

Nebula said it will subsidize data purchases of buyers with verified academic affiliations, calling that consistent with its goal of promoting scientific advancement for all by supporting research by nonprofit institutions.

The startup said it will protect data privacy through encryption-based secure computing based on a digital decentralized blockchain. Owners of data will be kept anonymous while buyers of data will be required to be transparent about their identities, Nebula promised.

Dr. Church is one of three Nebula co-founders. The other two are:

  • Dennis Grishin, Boehringer Ingelheim Ph.D. Fellow in Genetics and Genomics at Harvard University;
  • Kamal Obbad, a Harvard graduate and serial biotech entrepreneur who previously worked at Google.

The cofounders coauthored the whitepaper with the company’s three advisors. Two hold the title of founding advisors: Mirza Cifric, co-founder and CEO of Veritas Genetics, a provider of whole-genome sequencing and interpretation that was also co-founded by Dr. Church; and Preston (Pete) Estep, Ph.D., co-founder and CSO of Veritas Genetics, and director of gerontology and director of genome sequencing at the Harvard Personal Genome Project, launched in 2005 to enable researchers to connect human genetic information with human trait information and environmental exposures.

The other advisor is Yining Zhao, Ph.D., founding partner at Just and co-founder at Veritas, who serves as managing director for its Asia business.

Nebula is not the only blockchain-based genomic company. Luna DNA pays providers of genomic data in “Luna Coins” for DNA and other medical data the company sells to buyers. Several of the company’s cofounders and executives, including CEO Bob Kain, formerly worked at sequencing giant Illumina.

In the whitepaper, Nebula didn’t mention Luna DNA but contrasted its model with those of three other personal genomic data companies: 23andMe, Helix, and Ancestry.com.

Unlike those companies, Nebula said, it will not serve as an intermediary between data owners and data buyers. Instead, owners can acquire personal genomic data from Nebula sequencing facilities or other sources, join the company’s blockchain-based network, and connect with data buyers directly.

“This model reduces effective sequencing costs and enhances protection of personal genomic data,” Nebula stated. “It also satisfies the needs of data buyers in regards to data availability, data  acquisition logistics, and resources needed for genomic big data.”

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