Nebula Genomics announced in June its first partnership with pharma to use its blockchain-based platform. EMD Serono will use Nebula’s network of anonymized genomic data in a lung cancer project. Founded in 2016 by George Church and two Harvard students, Kamal Obbad and Dennis Grishin, Nebula is one of a small cadre of companies that have set up blockchain-based platforms to enable people to maintain control of their genome and manage access to it in a secure, yet transparent, environment. For Serono, a subsidiary of Merck KGaA of Darmstadt, Germany, the collaboration has the potential to provide scientific insights that will help researchers understand the causes of disease and accelerate discovery and drug development. In exchange for access to their data, lung cancer patients will be offered a free, high-coverage whole-genome sequencing, which could help them make better treatment choices. According to Nebula’s founders, two issues primarily keep people from getting their genome sequenced: cost and privacy concerns. As a result, relatively few human genomes have been sequenced so far, slowing the development of genome-based therapies. This new effort aims to solve these problems, leading to greater numbers of genomes becoming available to drug developers. By far the largest collections of genomic information are in the hands of direct-to-consumer genomics companies, like 23andMe and Ancestry.com, which are estimated to have over 26 million customers. However, the data they provide are limited to 600,000 single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) or only 0.02% of the human genome. Since 2018, Nebula has been offering a low-pass sequence for only $99, which can reveal information on ancestry and some non-medical traits. Through partnerships like the one with EMD Serono, certain customers will now get their complete genomes for free.
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Serono to pilot Nebula’s blockchain for genomes. Nat Biotechnol 37, 706 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41587-019-0187-y