This interview is part of our new Blockchain In Healthcare series, where we interview the world's leading thought leaders on the front lines of the intersections between blockchain and healthcare.
In this interview we speak with David Koepsell, CEO of EncrypGen, to understand how his company is using blockchain to transform the healthcare business, and what the future of the industry holds.
1. What’s the story behind EncrypGen? Why and how did you begin?
DK: We began as a project by husband and wife team, Dr. David Koepsell and Dr. Vanessa Gonzalez.
I have been teaching and writing about ethics and technology for more than 15 years, and Dr. Gonzalez is a genomic scientist, working for the Nation Institute of Genomics in Mexico. Together, we had been collaborating on issues of privacy and genetic data, publishing on that subject, when I decided to explore the use of blockchains to help solve issues of ownership and privacy for genetic data. We began the company in late 2016, raised some money from family and friends, and started assembling a team. By May 2017, EncrypGen showed a prototype of the Gene-Chain at the Bio-IT World conference. By April 2018, we had raised some money in a small token sale, hired additional staff and released our first consumer product: MyGene-Chain. By then, people were buying kits from our partners and then uploading their data and filling in personal profiles, or using data they got from various direct-to-consumer testing companies like 23andMe. The first sales of data happened in November 2018, when our full platform launched, making it the first blockchain-mediated peer-to-peer genetic data market in the world. Now we have nearly 1000 users, and more transactions every day. The DNA token is being used by researchers to pay individuals for their de-identified data, and the only fee is EncrypGen's 10% commission on every transaction. We're small still, and sustainably growing, and still the only functioning blockchain-mediated genetic data marketplace.
2. Please describe your use case and how EncrypGen uses blockchain:
DK: Our blockchain stores some small metadata about the files stored on our platform and serves as an audit trail of transactions. Our platform is Multi-Chain, and our blockchain is bespoke. On it, we use a native token but our wallet allows for the native token to be exchanged for the erc20 version of DNA so that customers can better make use of their earning, or more easily find tokens to use for buying data. The use-case is simple: we run a marketplace for de-identified genetic data associated with user profile data for use in basic research. We index the incoming data, make it searchable for researchers, and even include a new custom survey option so that once a researcher buys data of interest they can follow up with a custom survey in exchange for a few DNA tokens. This makes our especially flexible for researchers, and offer users an additional way to earn more for their contributions to science.
3. What are examples of companies/customers who benefit from EncrypGen’s service? What has your company done for them?
DK: We offer the only platform where people can get paid directly for the use of the genetic data in science. Until now, direct to consumer testing companies have been selling user data with no real sharing of profits. We let data buyers pay individuals directly for that data, and take only a small commission on the transaction. This means users can finally profit by the use of their data, and society profits by having more data available for basic research. Our users get paid in DNA which they can readily exchange for other cryptocurrencies and then get real money to spend through their personal crypto services or wallets. We also provide an extensible survey mechanism so that researchers can delve deep into the data for their science rather than waiting for us to constantly increase the size of our personal profiles. We also de-identify the data through several layers of abstraction and provide an audit trail via our blockchain to track uses. Finally, unlike some competitors branching out into this space, our platform is free for users to store and sell their data, and for searching for that data, with our only revenue coming through commissions of up to 10% on transactions. With almost 1000 users so far on the system, we have begun to make revenue on the transactions so far, and people are actually making money selling their genetic data.
4. What other blockchain healthcare use cases are you excited about?
DK: I am particularly interested in the merger of blockchains with machine learning in healthcare, allowing for mining of data in ways that we hope will prove fruitful for both basic research and health outcomes. Blockchains we hope will improve data stewardship and custody claims, and machine learning will help us finally start to make sense of enormous volumes of data, including imaging.
5. Where will EncrypGen be in 5 years?
DK: We hope and expect we will continue to lead the way as we are built to grow organically. Between our consumer product, and an upcoming B2B product arising from our position as a Microsoft Startup, we expect to have 100000 users within 5 years, making for a useful and cost effective new pool of data for researchers, and a profitable side-gig for people who have done their genetic tests. As well, we hope the platform will be used regularly as part of our users ongoing personalized medical care.