Startup LunaDNA has asked the USA’s Securities and Exchange Commission to approve its plan to pay people for their DNA data.
The company wants to build a ‘DNA marketplace’ where people can upload their biological data from genetic-testing companies in exchange for shares in company profits. The data would then be stripped of identifying details and encrypted.
Researchers would pay LunaDNA to access the data, and some of the revenue from research studies would be passed along to shareholders as dividends.
The company considers different pieces of data to be of different value. For example, shares worth 14 cents would be paid for 20 minutes of fitness tracker data. $3.50 would be paid for a genome-wide microarray, $3.50 for a whole microbiome and $21 for a whole genome (data pertaining to your complete genetic composition).
It is a unique approach to data gathering, and differs from the likes of 23andMe, which charges people to analyse their genes, then uses that data for research.
President of LunaDNA, Dawn Barry, said: “Our goal is to bring together the health data communities. We look to create the largest human health database to bring together genomic information, clinical medical information, and then your environmental information, as you think about wearables and sensors. And to do so in a manner that’s owned by a community of data donors.
“We’re recognising data donors as having currency to acquire shares in the company. People should be rewarded when value is created from their data. We can’t say something has value and then just sort of take it from people.”
According to LunaDNA, the ultimate value that will come from a large number of people contributing their health data is the potential for medical breakthroughs that could improve quality of life.
LunaDNA is one of a small number of ‘biobrokers’ in the business of selling health records that have been stripped of identifying markers. Such information has become a highly sought after commodity.
The organisation’s president, Peter Pitts, said: “We pay people to participate in clinical trials. I don’t see why people shouldn’t be compensated for their genes.”
As long as companies are transparent about how the data is collected and used, paying people for their information is a good thing, according to Pitts.
Barry said: “We’re not talking about life-changing money here. What we’d like to focus on is really the transparency of this model.”
There will now be a minimum 21-day period for public comment. After that, if the SEC gives approval, the company can begin collecting the DNA.