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There’s money you can make selling your DNA. Shivom will help monetise it

Genetic testing centres are selling your DNA to pharma majors to conduct drug development research without your knowledge and the latter is making big bucks. Shivom is working to change that narrative by granting you complete access to your DNA and helping you monetise it.

, ET Online|
Updated: Dec 11, 2019, 12.27 PM IST
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The bootstrapped firm has so far clocked annual recurring revenue of £75,000 and is targeting £1.3 million by next fiscal.
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Do you know a single strand of your hair might be worth millions? In hindsight, large corporations might be minting billions of dollars using your DNA with you being totally oblivious about it. Many visit genetic testing centres to find out what medical conditions or ailments they are likely to have. In order to do so, they submit their DNA in the form of a hair or spit. The center, in turn, sells the stored DNA to pharmaceutical companies, researchers, scientists and other third parties helping them in identifying genes with diseases, make improvements in drugs, enhance their research, and sometimes to even catch criminals.

While the whole business is worth billions, the end consumers, i.e., the DNA owners receive nothing. To change this narrative, blockchain and healthcare enthusiasts Gourish Singla and Axel Schumacher teamed up and formed Shivom three years ago. Shivom is a platform which stores people’s DNA data, grants them complete ownership of their DNA, and set a marketplace for interested parties to approach DNA owners. This gives the donors’ blockchain, tamperproof security, and eliminates third-party vendors and middlemen. “This kind of autonomy and power, which lets you decide whom you want to sell your data to – a medical researcher, scientist or a company – is the power of Shivom’s product,” 27-year-old Singla told ET.

Selling yourself
Genomics is defined as the study of the function, structure, evolution, mapping and editing of genomes. In simple terms, understanding what we are and why we are, how we are on the basis of our DNA. The study involves parameters such as DNA sequencing and bioinformatic pipeline- a software framework that processes data from DNA sequencers to find sub parameters which help in analyzing, assembling and sequencing the structure and function of genomes. They serve a great purpose in understanding diseases and help scientists and researchers improve drug treatments, gene mapping, identify genetic factors leading to diseases, and prevent ill health.

“We believe genomics should be available to everyone globally, and that the donors should be able to receive incentives for safe and secure storage of their data, without having to care about malicious data leaks,” he said.

The firm acts as a bridge between your DNA data and the players who want to use your data. It is a hub of a giant genetic pool and acts like a repository for interested parties. People can store their DNA data by uploading the file using a home testing kit. One they have stored their DNA data, they will have the liberty to set permissions through Shivom’s explicit consent mechanism. They can choose and specify which sort of parties can access their data, which parts of their data can be accessed and for what purpose. Shivom secures the data with a thick blockchain-powered blanket which allows only the DNA owner to see which company wants their data and for what purpose.

Founder
Gourish Singla, co-founder, Shivom

Researchers and organisations can then, if the user agrees, search DNA records on Shivom’s web portal. They also have the option to use bioinformatics pipeline tools such as traits, ancestry, GWAS (Genome wide association study) and RNA profiling to analyze it for their research.

For example, if a researcher wants to search about a tumor and wants to analyse DNAs carrying it, all she or he has to do is type the tumor’s name in the “Disease” option and a list of DNAs carrying the tumor will appear categorized on the basis of gender, marital status, ethnicity, drinking status and smoking status. One can see the number of such DNAs available with Shivom. Thereafter, the researcher can select the kind of DNAs he or she needs, and analyse the data through different bioinformatics pipelines such as ancestry, traits, genome annotation (the process of finding the location of genomes) and GWAS.

To lure customers to share their DNA data, the firm offers financial incentives. For example, a data owner, custodian or researcher can earn up to 0.5 cents per use depending on the type of data shared or utilised. Meanwhile, customers who have uploaded their DNA data can also use the platform to purchase various healthcare apps at a discounted price.

Apart from enabling the DNA owners to monetise through its platform, Shivom also gives them the opportunity to interact with healthcare services and enterprises to contribute in R&D and drug development on a global scale.

On the other hand, to access the genomic data, the parties will have to pay a yearly-subscription fee. Meanwhile, the pipeline comes with a pay-per-use cost. Shivom uses OMX token technology as a form of payment. For the uninitiated, OMX is a cryptocurrency token and works on Ethereum platform.

“Additionally, researchers and organisations are also able to securely share genomic data between other researchers in the platform and earn revenue, which can be spent back into their research,” Singla explained.

Vast applications and impact
The startup has partnered with various healthtech and genetic testing firms across the world to improve drug development and healthcare R&D. Some of these are LifeBit, Chronomics, Vitl, TruTrace Technologies, Cleveland Clinic-backed Family Care Path, Lympo and LivingDNA.

Maria Chatzou, CEO and co-founder, Lifebit, told ET, “We want genomics to become a network which can be part of our everyday life and give you more benefits. It is a robust field. While the field of genomics has evolved, it’s mostly the large corporations which are controlling the genomics business as it holds a lot of personal and relevant data which can make a difference in healthcare. Shivom has created a brilliant ecosystem of genomics and is empowering the DNA owners by keeping their DNA knowledge secure and creating a marketplace for it. Further, India is a potential market as it comes with a lot of diseases and health-related content.”

When asked about how India can be a potential market for genomics, Singla said, “India’s genetic dataset is the most valuable dataset because of the large number of rare diseases. It’s a huge market where the genetic data needs to be secured and monetised in the most efficient way.”

The bootstrapped firm has so far clocked annual recurring revenue of about $98,000 and is targeting $1.7 million by next fiscal.

He added that Shivom will continue to collaborate with experts and organisations in the field of machine learning and artificial intelligence to enhance their technical expertise. It also intends to work with organisations such as the Metadata Task Team of the Global Alliance for Genomics & Health as well as Pistoia Alliance, the Clinical Data Interchange Standards Consortium (CDISC) and the EBI Ontology service.

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