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article imageUsing blockchain to improve global health: Interview Special

By Tim Sandle     May 25, 2018 in Health
A new startup called Nano Vision, wants to usher in a new era of outcomes in global health by removing borders to make important data accessible to all. The aim is to achieve this with blockchain.
Nano Vision is looking to build its own distributed ledger technology called Cure Chain to accelerate the development of new treatments and cures. The company is also advised by Dispatch Labs, which is building its own scalable blockchain protocol to eliminate the logistical and organizational challenges faced by the healthcare industry.
Nano Vision has begun creating a community-driven marketplace that incentivizes data sharing on a global scale. The ethos is that the more data that is available, then the faster medical researchers can make life-saving discoveries.
To discover more, Digital Journal spoke with Steve Papermaster, CEO of Nano Vision, about how it is building a blockchain protocol that's scalable for the enterprise.
Digital Journal: Why do so many drug trials fail?
Steve Papermaster: The failure rate of clinical trials today is astronomical –90% of clinical trials fail. There are a number of factors that contribute to this high rate, but one of the most glaring issues is that data is not widely shared between researchers, institutions or companies. Unshared data means that researchers around the world are missing key pieces of information that they need to make progress on important initiatives like the development of a new treatment for cancer. Connecting these dots would mean less guesswork for researchers and faster, more efficient and effective clinical trials.
DJ: How difficult is it to develop a new drug product?
Papermaster: Developing a new drug is a massive undertaking with many steps, obstacles and regulatory protocols. The process involves raising enough funding to start researching and developing a new treatment, which is typically controlled by large institutions or governments that decide which projects are worth funding. From there, there are many opportunities for failure.
Often, drug candidates that seem promising when tested in petri dishes or in mice don’t fare as well when tested in real world settings with humans, which essentially means that researchers have to go back to the drawing board and start over. Fighting disease is certainly not an easy undertaking, but having an open system that encourages global data sharing could make a big difference in this process.
DJ: What are the main barriers?
Papermaster: A lack of important, existing data is a key barrier that leaves researchers without all the puzzle pieces they need to tackle health threats. Many of these challenges are highly complex and approaching them with limited information only makes it more difficult. Imagine attempting a mission to Mars without having all of the data points you need about conditions and potential obstacles along the way. It likely would not be a successful mission.
Another barrier is that preclinical trials, which involve testing potential drug candidates in laboratories or animal models, are required before testing in humans can begin. Because both diseases and treatments often act differently in sterile laboratory environments or in animals than they do when exposed to the human system in the real world, this can often cause setbacks or false hope.
Finally, funding is a major barrier to success. Many companies or institutions are interested in providing funding for drugs that are expected to be lucrative, meaning that more difficult-to-treat illnesses like rare, orphan conditions receive very little or no funding to complete drug development and clinical trials. Earlier this year, for example, Pfizer announced it would drop all research for drugs to treat Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, even though tens of millions of people around the world are affected by these conditions that have no cures.
DJ: How does Nano Vision hope to overcome these challenges?
Papermaster: We are taking a multi-faceted approach to helping bring healthcare into the 21st century and accelerate the development of important cures. We’re launching a marketplace that will use our cryptocurrency, called Nano Cure coin, to incentivize global data sharing. This will both break down data silos and democratize cure development by empowering regular citizens to participate in furthering healthcare by contributing their own data or just buying Nano Cure coins to fund research for diseases that are most important to them, thereby taking the power away from the few, centralized entities that make those decisions today.
We are also developing a technology platform to monitor and analyze health in the real world in real time, which will provide a range of benefits, from enabling healthcare providers to better monitor the health of their patients and receive real-time alerts to helping researchers better understand how diseases act in the real world instead of just laboratory environments. We have a partnership with Arm to co-develop the Nano Sense™ chip, which will collect real-world data and real time.
We recently announced a limited release of our early prototype Nano Bot™, which will be deployed in partner healthcare and research facilities to collect data related to health threats in the environment. We are building an artificial intelligence system that will correlate these collected real-world data points with research data contributed to the marketplace to help scientists and researchers around the world make new connections and discoveries.
DJ: How important is data access to this vision?
Papermaster: Opening up currently unshared datasets all over the world is the foundation of our vision. We think it is important to decentralize the power that controls important health initiatives like finding a cure for cancer, developing vaccines for emerging infectious diseases or fighting superbugs. By freely exchanging these datasets, we believe we can dramatically accelerate the development of cures for these global health challenges.
DJ: How important is blockchain to this strategy?
Papermaster: Blockchain technology is a game-changer because it allows us to capture and democratize data on a global scale in a format that is trusted and immutable. It makes this kind of global data sharing possible for the first time. We are in the process of developing our own distributed ledger technology, called Cure Chain, which will be optimized to capture and share the molecular-level data that is relevant to the development of new treatments and cures. Scalable blockchain protocols like Dispatch Labs’ can also be of great help to the healthcare industry as it faces many logistical challenges, like medical record organization and distribution, that this new technology could help solve.
DJ: What is your relationship with Dispatch Labs?
Papermaster: We work closely with members of the Dispatch Labs leadership team, two of whom (Matt McGraw and Patrik Wijkstrom) are members of our advisory team. We have a lot of respect for their team and will continue to tap into their insight and guidance as we build out our platform and launch our marketplace. We are very much following their progress and look forward to watching their success unfold.
DJ: What has been the response from mainstream pharma, do they see you as a threat?
Papermaster: We have strong relationships with a variety of pharma and emerging biotech companies because there are many opportunities for us to work together an partner. We are an enabling company that is working to make many of pharma companies’ goals a reality, like accelerating the development of new and important drugs. We have found that typically, large-scale innovation that can cause rapid progress is generally welcomed by the rest of the industry.
DJ: What is the next phase for you?
Papermaster: We are rapidly developing our Nano Vision Cure Platform. Cancer, infectious disease and superbugs represent some of the most critical challenges facing our world today, and we are losing ground on each of them, so we’re not wasting any time.
We are continuing to build partnerships and love hearing from companies, institutions or individuals who might be interested in partnering with us. Otherwise, we are actively working on launching our marketplace and continuing the development of our technology platform, including our artificial intelligence system and our Nano Sense™ chip, which is expected to be completed in 2020.
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