A group of scientists and engineers headed by former officials from genetic research firm Illumina think they have a novel approach to getting people to send in their DNA tests for research purposes: pay them in cryptocurrency...
Luna DNA's founding team Bob Kain, David Lewis, Dan Lin and Michael Witz
Starting in the first quarter of 2018, people who buy DNA tests will be able to send their information to startup company Luna DNA in exchange for a "Luna" coin.
The idea is that people whose DNA information is sold to pharmaceutical companies for R&D should be compensated. DNA testing companies such as 23andMe already offer users the ability to share their information, but doesn't pay them. 23andMe then sells user information to companies such as Genentech.
"We view that as an asset and want everybody to realize the value of that asset," said Michael Witz, a Luna Coin co-founder and the project's cryptocurrency expert.
Luna Coin is a product of Luna DNA. The company's CEO and CIO are both veterans of genetic research firm Illumina: CEO Bob Cain was Illumina's chief engineering officer, and CIO Scott Kahn comes from the CIO role at Illumina. The rest of the team includes crypto developers, people from the health and gaming worlds and life sciences investor David Lewis.
There are plenty of potential stumbling blocks on the way to making Luna Coin a success. For one, the project is planning a token sale in the first quarter of next year and will have to contend with an unclear set of regulations.
Witz didn't say how much Luna Coin plans on raising by selling tokens, but he said that comparable offerings have brought in $40 million to $50 million.
Luna isn't the first company in the space to offer people the ability to share medical data in what is known as the "biorights" movement, however Luna DNA will be the first to offer cryptocurrency as payment.
Perhaps Luna will be able to overcome the fact that only around 4 percent of genomic samples are from people of African and Latin American descent - leading to a huge lack of diversity among companies building health databases, according to Nature.