LunaDNA, a startup that is offering individuals company stock in exchange for personal genomic and health information in a bid to build a database that could help advance scientific research, is merging its research platform with the Genetic Alliance’s Platform for Engaging Everyone Responsibly (PEER).
The Genetic Alliance is a longstanding nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C. Its PEER offering allows patients who enter their information to delineate how and for what purpose researchers and others may access the data. About 50,000 PEER users have shared personal health information related to 45 diseases, according to the Genetic Alliance.
LunaPBC, a public-benefit corporation set up to manage LunaDNA, was started in 2017 by former Illumina (NASDAQ: ILMN) executives and others. The company, based in the San Diego community of Solana Beach, is working to populate the LunaDNA platform with enough health and genomics information to make it valuable to pharmaceutical companies and healthcare researchers, its target customers.
Financial terms of the deal, including the ownership structure of the combined platform, weren’t disclosed. However, the corporations themselves aren’t combining—just their respective platforms. Once merged, LunaDNA will be in charge of managing all participants’ health data.
Dawn Barry, president and co-founder of LunaPBC, said the San Diego company and the DC-based nonprofit believe that people who contribute their health data to advance research deserve transparency in how it is used, control over how it is shared, and privacy. Sharon Terry, president and CEO of the Genetic Alliance, has been an advisor to the company since its early days.
“We unite under those major themes, and bring our platforms together to bring forward a very unique and empowering continuum from individuals and communities all the way to accelerated research,” Barry said via phone Tuesday from the Precision Medicine World Conference in Santa Clara, CA.
Going forward, PEER participants will be able to receive LunaDNA stock in exchange for their information. (Shares may be donated to charity, if participants prefer.) LunaDNA initially planned to offer its own form of cryptocurrency in exchange for health information, but later decided against it, citing a lack of clear regulatory guidance for the sector.
Last month, the company announced that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission had qualified its offering of $50 million worth of its shares in exchange for health and DNA data—the first time a company has gotten the OK to swap stock for information, rather than cash.
“Rather than having researchers wait for sufficient data to pose questions, the community-owned data is poised to address their novel hypotheses,” Barry said in prepared remarks. “The opportunity to reshape research and be inclusive is good for both people and discovery.”
Like any big data play, however, the trick will be making sure enough people buy in and share their data to make the aggregated information valuable to prospective customers.
Another startup, Boston-based Nebula Genomics, is offering free genome sequencing and other services to encourage data sharing.
LunaDNA will bulk up the volume of information available on its platform through its tie-up with PEER. And the broader Genetic Alliance network could bring it wider exposure: The group’s membership is comprised of 10,000 organizations, including more than 1,200 disease-specific advocacy organizations, universities, private companies, government agencies, and public policy organizations.
Barry said the partnership with the Genetic Alliance is the first of many LunaPBC hopes to strike. Its financial backers, from whom the startup said in May it had raised about $4 million, include the corporate venture arm of Illumina and Chicago-based Arch Venture Partners.