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  • Jason Goldstein

Bio-Deep-Tech: Is there a home for Blockchain in Biotech?

The blockchain bubble has arguably been and gone. Token Generating Events (TGEs), Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) and Security Token Offerings (STOs) have faded into the distance, and now people are turning their attention to “hyper ledger fabric” and “Cordapps” in an attempt to realise the true potential of decentralised storage.

So what does this mean for Biotech and is there a place for blockchain technology? 

Genome Sequencing

In 2018 Nebula Genomics came onto the scene offering to store your personal genomic data on a blockchain-enabled multiparty access control system. One of the advantages of having the data stored on a blockchain would be that you could then share that data with companies of your choice. New Scientist reported that in return for sharing your data you could have received “Nebula credits”.

I have no doubt that genomic data is incredibly valuable and will only increase in value. However, does blockchain actually solve a problem that currently exists? I agree that there is something novel about being able to monetise your own personal genome data but I am not yet ready to upload my own. Perhaps in time I may have no choice.

Supply chain management

This seems to be an application of blockchain that is cropping up in a variety of industries, from providing transparency in the fashion industry, to tracking carbon credits. So what about Biotech? 

The FDA has been piloting blockchain technology through a partnership with IBM, with IBM issuing a report on the pilot earlier this year. The report highlights that this technology could help with addressing drug shortages and streamlining processes – something that could be powerful globally.

An alternative to the FDA-IBM partnership is Mediledger. Its pilot track and trace for prescription medicines seems to have returned positive results but only time will tell if it will progress on more applications.

Decentralised computing power

Now this is where I deviate from blockchain slightly – but stay with me. It would be wrong to leave out Folding@Home. This application brings together the processing power of hundreds of thousands of computers in order to learn more about how proteins fold. Some of the processes that are being simulated would take about 500 years of computing time on a MacBook Pro. Learning about protein folding can help with development of vaccines and support in developing treatments for a wide range of diseases.

Yes this isn’t strictly blockchain, but it is a great application of a decentralised process and I look forward to seeing whether similar models will come to fruition and whether participants can capture value themselves.

Verdict

My feeling is that blockchain is merely in its infancy and applications will start to pop up in a variety of pockets in the biotech sphere. In time, perhaps we will see biotech applications being built on a blockchain that stores our genome data…this seems to be a distant vision though.

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