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News by Zenome

What is Zenome? Press and Media FAQ

Zenome is a decentralized internet for genomic data. To understand the whole concept, it is necessary to discuss some of the “input” information.
Jeff Heizmann
Thu, 16 Aug 2018

Alex Gorbachev via, Tue, 08/14/2018

1. Your business

1.1 What does do?

Zenome is a decentralized internet for genomic data. To understand the whole concept, it is necessary to discuss some of the “input” information.

Today, more than 10 million people have undergone DNA testing (array-based genotyping and sequencing, and more than 60 million by 2025 are expected).

Pharmaceutical companies need more genetic data to develop new drugs. This data is owned by drug companies.

FMCG companies (for example, Unilever) use genomics to create personalized products.

Scientific organizations need instruments for the protected sharing of personal and genomic information.

At the moment, the vast majority of generated genetic data is kept by service providers (with 23andMe leading the field) and Big Pharma companies, and it is not available for wider use.

Individuals with their genomic profiles have little opportunity to use or monetize their data, as there is no open marketplace or other instruments for this purpose.

Genomics will become the primary data generator on the Internet over the next ten years.

So, we need instruments to solve the problem of genetic information secure sharing with full privacy protection.

To find a solution to this problem, it is necessary to implement the following:

  • develop p2p network protocol, in which data streams can be transmitted, including genetic information, personal data, and financial transactions.
  • to implement this data-encryption/transformation protocol so that it allows the application of a full set of statistical operations (for example, for conducting GWAS).
  • insert the accounting system for data transmission in the network and payment for each transmission within the network (point for blockchain implementation).
  • develop access to the network: you can just open the webpage of the Zenome platform in your browser with all the necessary functions available.

Using both the distributed network and blockchain technology will solve the problems described above and implement an effective tool for secure sharing and storage of genomic data.

1.2 Who buys people’s DNA? Pharmaceutical companies, medical researchers etc.?

We believe that with the development of our platform, the range of possible buyers will expand rapidly. Even now, many companies are creating personalized products: food, clothing, footwear, medicine etc. Access to genomic information for the development of personalized products will serve as a foundation for the growth of the number of such companies.

Speaking of the near future, the following organizations will be the main buyers:

  • Pharmaceutical companies
  • FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Goods) companies
  • Scientific and Medical organizations (both private and governmental)

There are cases when Big Pharma Companies have bought genomic data. This is needed for the development of new drugs and sampling in clinical trials.

There are scientific organizations interested in the reduction of research cost. In the current scheme, they need to find a person, convince him/her to participate and get written informed consent. After this, they spend money on sequencing and storing genomic data that allows these companies to obtain scientific results. In the Zenome network, scientists can collect and analyze the data cheaper and don’t spend money and resources on storing data.

FMCG companies are also interested in data collection. As an example, we can describe our Unilever case:

CTO and co-founder of Zenome Nickolay Kulemin took part (conducted bioinformatic processing) in GWAS for UK company DNAFit, sponsored by the Unilever Corporation.

The essence of the research: Unilever produces and sells Marmite spread in the UK, which is a product of processing brewer’s yeast, and is very rich in B vitamins, but has a very specific taste. Marmite is a popular product for breakfast. Residents of the UK, where the main market for Marmite is concentrated, are divided into two cohorts: some sincerely like the taste of the spread (“lovers”), others consider the taste completely unacceptable (“haters”).

The DNAfit company (sells DTC genetic tests in the UK) were commissioned by Unilever to conduct a full-genomic analysis of a group of almost 300 people who filled in a questionnaire about their taste preferences for Marmite (similar studies are called GWAS — Genome-Wide Association Studies). As a result, genetic markers associated with the perception of Marmite’s taste have been identified (that is, “love” and “hate” for Marmite is encoded in our genome), and now Unilever is starting to develop a new composition that will be liked by Marmite’s “genetic haters” and potentially expand their market. More information about the study can be read here:

1.3 How do the seller and the buyer get in touch with each other?

You simply need to install the client program or go online through the web application. Identification of the user occurs with the help of two keys: private and public. A public key is your address on the network (like an IP address on the Internet), a private key is known only to you and allows you to log into the network from any device. This is similar to the use of the Bitcoin network.

After logging into the network, you can upload your genomic data to a distributed database and fill out a questionnaire. At the same time, certain characteristics about you fall into the open database (Network showcase), so that, for other users, the following information will be visible (just for a very simplistic example): in the network of 1000 people with some frequencies for different mutations. Among them, 20% are blue-eyed, 40% brown-eyed. And, for example, 5% of users have a mutation responsible for the development of cancer.

If you want to buy certain data (you choose what characteristics you are interested in — for example, eye color and the corresponding position in the genome), then a smart contract is automatically created and sends a push notification to all users who own this information. As a result, the buyer receives the data, and the user receives his/her ZNA tokens. Sales can be configured in both automatic and manual modes when the seller must confirm each purchase request manually. At the same time, the interaction occurs in peer-to-peer, that is, the information does not arrive on any centralized server and cannot be stolen. With each purchase, the seller receives a warning — what percentage of his/her data is requested and whether there is a risk of de-anonymization and loss of privacy. These requests will be automatically blocked by the smart contract to prevent the possibility of a one-time redemption of all information from the network by a large player.

1.4 What kind of genetic services do you offer on your website?

Since our network Zenome is an open and decentralized/distributed structure, the number of services is unlimited. In fact, we are building an infrastructure (marketplace) for any applications above it. This is like the Internet is an infrastructure for any website.

Main services that will be implemented in the near future:

  • You can buy genome sequencing
  • You can store genomic data
  • You can get a report with an interpretation of your genomic data
  • You can use the API for developers and connect your service to the Zenome network.

1.5 What does your ownership structure look like?

Currently, we have a legal entity in Belize. The company is owned by two founders — Alexey Gorbachev and Nikolay Kulemin in the ratio of 50/50 shares. This legal entity is the owner and issuer of ZNA tokens and is responsible for the sale of the tokens.

Name of company: Ltd

Registered office: Suite 508, Marina Towers, Newtown Barracks Road

Belize City, Central America

Incorporation date: September 19, 2017

Company Registration number: 168,105

Director: Alexey Gorbachev

We also plan to create an entity in EU/US jurisdiction

1.6 Do you have any affiliation with pharmaceutical companies or do they own any of your shares?

Currently, we do not have any official links with pharmaceutical companies. However, it should be noted that we observe some interest on their part. In particular, we were contacted by Pfizer’s representatives and we have told them about the project. Now they are waiting for the release of the working network and the moment when our database will start to grow.

In addition, we have consulted with employees from several major biotechnology companies and they are all interested in cooperation and integration with our network after its launch.

1.7 How many employees do you have?

At present, we have nine staff members and two more trainees in the field of blockchain-development. Our team includes developers of distributed systems and specialists) in the field of data analysis and genomics.

1.8 What is your annual sales figure? What’s your profit? How do you earn money?

Currently, our company is a startup and doesn’t earn revenue from the sales of our services. That is, we are working by raised funds — this is about $600,000 for the past year. Our funds allow us to develop our decentralized network and we plan to launch our testnet (alpha version of Zenome network) by the end of August 2018. It should be noted that this will be the first such network in the world.

See more in our annual report.

1.9 Do you have any investors? If yes, who are they and how much did they invest?

We raised funds through the token sale, in fact, it was crypto-crowdfunding. In total, we have about 130 buyers for ZNA tokens for a total of $500,000. In addition, at the very start of our project, we raised $100,000 from a private crypto fund.

It is worth noting that, over the past two months, we have been in contact with three big venture funds from Silicon Valley. I cannot disclose their names, I can only say that we are negotiating how to attract additional venture capital funds, as the new round of fund raising is in process now.

According to our roadmap, we plan to launch the full functionality of the network in May 2019.

1.10 Do you have an estimation of how much your company is worth?

Currently, it is quite difficult to estimate. I suggest the following approach:

35000000 ZNA are issued

1,035,491 ZNA are sold for $500,000 USD

So, according to these numbers, we can estimate the capitalization of the company in the amount of about $16 million USD. Although I’m not sure if this approach is completely correct — because the cost of the token and the company capitalization are not directly related. Anyway, in our negotiations with venture funds, we utilize this kind of assessment.

2. Ethics and privacy

2.1 Do you have any ethical concerns regarding the idea of selling your DNA?

Our genome is a unique DNA sequence that we inherited from our parents. I am convinced that I am the only one who has the right to own the information about my genome, it’s like the right to express my thoughts, the right to choose a job or my religion. This is one of the very basic human rights to dispose of our body and mind the way we want.

But we also understand that for the genomics development, scientists need to conduct research on large samples, so it is necessary to create conditions for access to this information for scientists. In addition, pharmaceutical companies are also interested in genomic information to create personalized medicine.

We see that by enabling the user to earn by sharing his/her personal information, we, on one hand, contribute to scientific progress and help the pharmaceutical industry to create new drugs, and, on the other, guarantee the user’s privacy, hiding his/her sensitive information.

2.2 How do you protect people’s privacy?

We have developed a new algorithm by which we apply a certain mathematical transformation of genomic data (this is similar to encryption), which completely protects the data, and it is impossible to identify a person. In addition, each genome is split into short fragments, then they are encrypted/transformed and then distributed over a number of nodes in the Zenome network. The puzzle can be collected only by the owner of the private key, that is, the owner of the genome.

2.3 Do the people who sell their DNA know who they are selling it to or is the buyer anonymous?

In the test phase of the Zenome network there will be both options for anonymous sales and sales to well-known buyers. At this stage, we assume that there will be a rating system amongst data buyers and the disclosure of information about themselves and the purpose of data collection will contribute to the growth of the rating. Next, we will proceed with the tests performed and legislative restrictions.

2.4 How do you control the buyer’s and seller’s identity?

Because our system is a decentralized/distributed network, we cannot control identity, as it is implemented in modern centralized solutions where you can store all user data on your web server.

However, there is a standard identification system for decentralized networks: a system of two keys — public and private. The public key is an analog of your IP address. The private key, with some approximation, can be defined as an analog of the password for your identification. The main difference from a centralized network is that your public key is stored in a distributed database, rather than on a centralized server. A private key is owned only by you and protects your information from hacking, but, if you lose the key, you are the only one who is responsible for this and we will not be able to help you recover the password.

Regarding quality of user data, for example, protection from fake data, there is a digital signature system from the laboratory in which you sequence the genome. It will validate that your data is actually yours. The right to this signature will belong only to certified laboratories in different countries. In addition, to avoid the falsification of data, there is the rating system and the ability to calculate the checksum of the data and write the hash-value into the blockchain. This approach will not allow changing already entered data.

As for the identification of the buyer, this is still an open question. I think that, basically, the rating system will work, which I described in the previous paragraph.

3. Research

3.1 How could DNA data help medicine to progress?

After the Human Genome Project was finished in 2003, the scientific community has advanced very far in the evaluation of genome structure. We have determined the approximate number of genes, for some of them we have defined their functions and connection with the diseases. However, as always happens in science, the more we learn, the more questions there are, and, in fact, we are still very far from a real understanding of how our genome works and how the interaction of genes with the external environment shapes our body. The accuracy of determining the risks of the development of diseases (except for monogenic diseases and some types of cancers) leaves much to be desired.

We believe that it is the accumulation of a critical size of genomic data that includes millions of genomes and phenotypic information that dynamically assembles for a long time (ideally from birth to death) that will allow us to make a quantum leap — that is, a big breakthrough in understanding the mechanisms of how our DNA works and the influence of the genome on the human body as a whole and the development of diseases in particular.

We are also convinced that this information should be available not only for the narrow group of pharmaceutical companies with huge capitals or several developed countries, but also for the entire scientific community to obtain the cumulative effect of rapid development. But, beyond that, we must protect the privacy of genomic information. And today’s technologies, including the technologies that we are developing, can solve the problems described above.

Speaking not in Philosophical, but in a more utilitarian sense, the development of genomics will help to solve the following problems:

  • The development of accurate predictive medicine that can prevent the development of diseases, rather than combat their consequences after the onset
  • The development of diagnostics at the earliest stages, which is especially important in the case of oncology
  • Creation of a library of healthy and sick elements, which will serve as the basis for genome editing and the treatment of diseases
  • Creation of structured data on which it is possible to train artificial intellect, and be- able to help with the treatment and diagnosis
  • Personalization of treatment of diseases and individual selection of medicines

In fact, all these fields for the application of genomics were formulated as early as the implementation of the Human Genome Project over 20 years ago. But, today, we believe we can make a breakthrough in understanding the functioning of genes, in introducing our technology. It is very important that it becomes widespread because only a large number of the network participants will help make the system self-sufficient and viable.

3.2 How do researchers and medical companies usually collect DNA data?

The usual way (it may vary slightly depending on the country and jurisdiction) is as follows:

In the case of scientific research:

  • You take a person’s written informed consent to collect and analyze his/her biological material
  • Conduct DNA sequencing
  • Should ensure the safe storage of the DNA sequence in a digital format
  • Carry out statistical processing of data to determine some correlations

In the case of medical companies:

  • A person turns to a laboratory or a medical service providing the company gives a DNA sample
  • The company guarantees the safety of genetic data
  • The company must provide storage (for example, under UK laws, a medical laboratory must store raw genomic sequencing data for 20 years from the time of the analysis)

3.3 Do you have any concrete examples of how data collected on your website has helped research?

I want to note once again that our company and website do not collect any data. We are developing and building an IT infrastructure for a decentralized/distributed network (including a new network protocol, API, and various software components as an open source project) that will allow each participant to safely store data and share it for scientific and commercial research. Our test network will be launched within the next 2–3 weeks and will be usable by all participants.

I can give the example or the problem that is very relevant for researchers and has not been resolved to date.

There are two scientific institutes or laboratories, each of which has 10,000 genomes. In this case, one institute examines cardiovascular diseases, and the second is engaged in studying the genetic characteristics of athletes. And these two institutions want to conduct a joint study, but not to transfer their valuable data to each other. In cryptography, there is the task of two millionaires who want to compare their states without talking about their real dimensions

There are cryptographic algorithms that will solve such problems, but, taking into account the specificity of genomic data and their large size, all existing approaches do not allow a scalable rapid solution. The development of our decentralized network and our algorithms for encryption and transformation of genomic data can solve this problem and two scientific institutions will do a joint study on two samples, keeping their data private.

4. Personal questions

4.1 What motivated you to set up the company?

It seems to me that in the 21st century, technological entrepreneurship is the place where real breakthrough and fundamental research are being done and I believe that our approach will allow us to make a leap in science. In addition, the structure of our financing, crowdfunding, with the help of cryptocurrency allows us to really be free and develop something that is really interesting for us but not for what the government will give financing.

We published our whitepaper about a year ago and created a whole new direction, in this area, there was only one project — Encrypgen, which, at that time, only offered to store DNA data securely. We proposed an approach with monetization and the sharing of genomic data for scientific research. And our idea and approach aroused the excitement in the US, several companies at once, one of them, Luna DNA, is a spin-off of the giant genomic company Illumina Inc. and the other is Nebula Genomics, founded by genome sequencing pioneer , George Church, from Harvard Medical School, they have picked up our idea and have begun to develop their projects.

However, it should be noted that the above companies, although they postulate that they plan to use blockchain and encryption and so on, still build centralized solutions. For example, Luna DNA did not publish its documentation at all and, according to Nebula Genomics documentation, crucial parts of the process will be centralized, which means that the company can influence the availability of data and the availability of the network. Our Zenome network is a non-profit organization which we develop as an open source project. This means that the network will be truly decentralized and specialists from different countries can participate in it. And, most importantly, we can guarantee the access of the entire scientific community to a common database.

Since I believe that science cannot be limited to one country or company, my main motivation in this project is to create a free infrastructure that will help all humanity to explore genomes and create new products.

4.2 Have you sold your DNA to someone yourself?

I have analyzed my own genome and have not yet transferred it to anyone. I will definitely post my genome to our Zenome network so that it will contribute to the development of scientific research.

I apologize, I may be repeating myself, but our project is not only about selling our DNA or gaining profit or getting other people to sell personal information. Our project is about creating an open genomic database and giving people the right to dispose of their information. If someone needs financial motivation, you can sell DNA, if not — you can give it for free. But you can also not give your data to anyone, but simply buy access to various services on our marketplace. But only you decide this, and not another company for you, earning hundreds of million dollars on this and monopolizing genomic data.

What is Zenome? Press and Media FAQ was originally published in Zenome on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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