The Promise of DAOs in Drug Discovery
In August, Pfizer announced it requested to join VitaDAO with a half-a-million bid. VitaDAO is a new type of decentralized autonomous organization (DAOs) built on blockchain technology. DAOs are new smart contract-based entities that enable capital, talent, and crowd intelligence exchange between several organizations. DAOs operate by rules and financial transactions encoded on a transparent blockchain architecture, controlled by the stakeholders and not influenced by a central governing body, like in a usual company. Essentially, DAOs are member-owned.
Pfizer’s bid to join VitaDAO is likely to pass (so far, 100% of the votes favor Pfizer entering the DAO). If the community agrees, the company will become a stakeholder and, potentially, a future acquirer of any generated IP, in this case -- novel therapeutics in the context of longevity research.
A blockchain is a distributed database or ledger that is shared among the nodes of a computer network where the information is stored electronically in digital format. Blockchains are best known for their crucial role in cryptocurrency systems for maintaining a secure and decentralized record of transactions. The most significant advantage of blockchain compared to an ordinary database is that it guarantees the fidelity and security of a data record and generates trust (at least, in theory) without needing a trusted third party.
In the context of drug discovery, decentralization through blockchain means creating new organizational structures that have a low barrier to entry, are intrinsically collaborative and incentive aligned and can coordinate capital and work from any participant (even the general public and patients). And these features are combined in the form of decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs).
DAOs are becoming a part of the decentralized science (DeSci) movement, which is currently forming a talent pool for entrepreneurial researchers and leading thinkers in biotech innovation, mainly targeting young professionals. One of the most reputable healthcare organizations in the US, the NIH, allocates more than 98% of its funding to researchers over the age of 36. This is an alarming sign of barriers faced by young academics and industry leaders in the field, and DeSci aims to help them find solutions to questions related to funding, coordination, and collaboration.
How DAOs operate
Let’s have a closer look at decentralized science by following an example of Molecule that coordinates in science and biotech by leveraging multiple DAOs (see VitaDAO, PsyDAO, LabDAO, etc.) with its platform that is increasingly positioned as a core infrastructure provider in the space. Molecule is a Switzerland-based decentralized biotech protocol building a web3 marketplace for research-related IP. The company developed a platform and scalable framework for biotech DAOs connecting academics and biotech companies with quick and easy funding while enabling patient, researcher, and investor communities to directly govern and own research-related IP.
VitaDAO was the first biotech DAO organized by Molecule. The company is focused on funding early-stage preclinical drug development in the context of longevity. By establishing this firm, Molecule aimed to create “a sustainable organization as a function of its commercial efforts,” which requires that the DAO derives monetary value from its funding efforts. To do this, VitaDAO leverages Molecule’s IP-NFT framework, which allows the DAO to own, license, and transact intellectual property generated from the projects it supports. VitaDAO works to fund and later commercialize early-stage research out of academia. Then owns the resulting IP from the projects it funds. This innovative solution allows the value to be captured by large, decentralized communities of researchers and patients.
Source: Vita DAO
NFTs can enable us to capture all sorts of asset types, including IP rights and data, and manage them natively in web3, allowing NFTs to exist in cyberspace, which is a big step in democratizing access to these assets. At Molecule, pioneering novel frameworks for IP-NFTs that attach both IP and data to NFTs turn IP into a new highly liquid, transactable asset class that bridges web3 into the real world. Designs here are early, and these new vehicles must stand the test of time and the courts.
Other DAOs to explore
GenomesDAO is a U.K. company positioning itself as an alternative to direct-to-consumer genome sequencing companies such as 23andMe. Companies like 23andMe generally sell data to research partners without clients-data providers having any stake in such “secondary” activity.
With GenomesDAO and its partner Nebula Genomics, consumers can get their genomes sequenced, analyzed, and stored in encrypted form on the company’s blockchain network. The data is only accessible by consent of the data provider (consumer of GenomesDAO). Whenever consumer approves their data for use by third-party research organizations, they can get direct payment in the form of GENE tokens.
LabDAO is a network of scientists and engineers designed to let researchers share their tools and services on a global marketplace and receive payments in tokens or shared IP.
One example to illustrate the essence of LabDAO is a recent tweet by Vincent Weisser, Chief Ecosystem at Molecule:
"Help us create a decentralized analytical grade knowledge graph open to the commons, where contributors to the graph are rewarded when the graph generates value for patients (e.g., IP generation)."
CureDAO is an open-source platform geared toward researching the effects of foods, drugs, and supplements on human health. The platform lets users donate data, intellectual property, and programs and monetize custom plugins for the platform. In return, they get a share of the revenue in tokens.
BioDAO is looking to create an alternative for funding early-stage biotech research and drug development projects via a decentralized approach enabled by blockchain. The organization claims it seeks to avoid the bias of legacy investors towards celebrity labs and serial biotech founders.
Another example of blockchain use in life sciences worth highlighting is the Longenesis Engage platform. This Hong Kong-based company offers an end-to-end, intuitive toolkit for data discovery enabling the engagement of patients through their platform, and facilitating this process for biomedical institutions, patient organizations, and research sponsors. The company aims to empower hospitals, doctors, and researchers to communicate directly while providing compliant and consent-enabled biomedical data curation and generation. And another solution is offered by DeHealth 3.0 - AI and medical data-based decentralized digital application for secure and anonymous storage, management, and monetization of anonymized healthcare data. DeHealth connects individuals, healthcare providers, and data consumers in a secure and mutually beneficial partnership enabling a win-win data exchange of high-quality, multi-structured datasets.
Blockchain and the Decentralised Science movement have great potential to change the rules of today’s biotech research, aiming to make resources - funding, supply chain, clinical trials, and health data accessible to a broader range of companies. The new types of business models offered by blockchain technology may become very suitable in notoriously risky and underfunded areas of pharmaceutical research, such as antibiotics discovery or rare diseases.
We should remember, though, that DAOs are a very new concept that is far from becoming mainstream. DAOs have their critics, too, for the reasons some of which are explained in the article “The problem with DAOs.” Time will tell how robust decentralized autonomous organizations will prove to be as reliable funding vehicles for drug discovery and biotech projects.
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