Seoul-based biotech firm Macrogen announced Monday that it has partnered with Bigster, a South Korean big data company, to develop a blockchain platform that would facilitate the transfer and storage of genome-wide data. With this platform, the organizations hope to offer a secure and stable method of distributing genetic information.
According to Macrogen, the human genome is an important aspect of big data in healthcare, alongside medical and lifestyle information. Individual-specific genomic data could enable doctors to customize their patients' diagnoses and treatment plans, as well as potentially allow pharmaceutical companies to develop new drugs and therapeutic agents.
Although genetic information is widely used in the healthcare industry, the sensitive and personal nature of it (including details like individuals' biological attributes) necessitates that professionals take special care in using and sharing the data. Macrogen said that both cryptographic and non-cryptographic methods need to be employed to protect such information "against hacking, security risks, and the risk of privacy infringement." According to the gene-sequencing provider, a system "must be stable enough to handle large amounts of [genomic] data."
Enter blockchain technology, with its decentralized and distributed qualities that, according to Macrogen, would make it difficult to randomly change or hack genetic information. Of course, considering the sensitive nature of such data, the biotech company decided to pursue the consortium (or permissioned) model, whereby participation on the blockchain is limited to key parties, such as pharmaceutical companies, research organizations, genome-analysis groups, and hospitals. The Seoul firm believes this model would be "easy to expand and manage."
Speaking more broadly, the genomics industry has been heating up lately. For example, GlaxoSmithKline, a British pharmaceutical company, has recently invested $300 million into 23andMe, a major Silicon Valley genetic information provider.
As part of the industry's growth, various firms – such as EncrypGen, Nebula Genomics, LunaDNA, and Zenome – have turned to blockchain technology for DNA records solutions. Many of the players are developing systems wherein users are rewarded for sharing their genomic data. The information that people provide to these blockchain platforms would allow pharmaceutical companies to gather the data needed to create drugs in light of certain genetic factors.
Macrogen and Bigster expect to complete their blockchain-based genomic information project by June 2019.
Translations by Google.