Would you give your DNA test results to this San Diego startup for a dividend
San Diego startup Luna DNA hopes to create a database of donated DNA, health records and diet/exercise information for medical researchers while paying dividends to people who voluntarily contribute their data.
Last week, the company took a step toward making this vision a reality by raising $4 million in an early round of venture capital.
Founded in 2017 by former Illumina executives, Luna DNA hasn’t begun collecting DNA, medical records and lifestyle information yet. It’s building the back-office infrastructure and legal foundation first.
But the company hopes to begin luring contributors later this year.
Founded as a public benefit corporation, Luna DNA’s model would be powered by blockchain technology, with contributors being akin to shareholders in a co-op.
The startup aims to make money through fees charged to researchers for tapping the database, and perhaps royalties stemming from future drug discoveries.
“We are a community-owned genomic and health database,” said President Dawn Barry, who joined Luna DNA after more than a decade at Illumina. “Individuals are invited into the platform, which is transparent and trust based.
“By providing their data, they become shareholders in the data base,” she continued. “The more they donate, the more shares they get, and as proceeds are generated, they flow back to the individuals in the form of dividends consistent with the number of shares they have through their data donor ships.”
Dawn Barry, President of Luna DNA, will lead operations of the San Diego start-up. She previously worked for Illumina. (Luna DNA)
Barry said medical research has been hindered because much of today’s data remains in silos that lack the necessary size and scope.
Luna DNA would not provide DNA sequencing or analysis itself. The startup is targeting people who’ve already had their DNA analyzed from services like 23andMe and Ancestry.com, as well as other means such as clinical drug trials.
Barry estimates that roughly 15 million people have gotten genetic information through these services.
In addition, there are a host of health data aggregators today that make it easier for people to access and share their electronic medical records, she said.
The contributed data would be made anonymous and aggregated to protect privacy.
“That is the beauty of a platform like this,” said Barry. “You can participate without anybody knowing your personal information. Our goal is to bring all of the de-identified, aggregated data together for research.”
Luna DNA is not alone in seeking to create a massive medical database for research. Earlier this month, the National Institutes of Health launched a program to convince a million people to give scientists access to their electronic health records and details of their genetic make-up.
The $1.5 billion “All of Us” project expects to create a database targeted toward scientists to research why people get sick or stay healthy.
Luna DNA’s new funding round was led by Illumina Ventures and Arch Venture Partners. They were joined by Bridgelink Capital of the United Kingdom, Seattle based Hemisphere Ventures and Dr. Aristides Patrinos, who formerly worked on the Human Genome Project.
“There has been an explosion in the amount of human genome sequencing, yet much of the data remains locked in proprietary corporate databases and segregated from other types of health records, limiting its utility in medical research,” said Nick Naclerio, founding partner of Illumina Ventures. “Luna DNA will accelerate important medical discoveries by putting individuals at the center of a cooperative effort to aggregate and organize a community-owned repository of longitudinal health data.”
The start-up said the new funding will be used to further build its research platform and begin piecing together a marketing strategy to encourage people to contribute.
“Luna DNA’s novel approach to transparency, rewards, and focus on discovery for the greater good will drive community participation and improved medical research,” said Robert Nelsen of Arch Venture Partners.