Health incentives gone wrong. Can Crypto, DAOs, NFTs fix them
Going to the doctor’s office today doesn’t always bring the word “care” to mind. The visits are often rushed, with endless phone calls and efforts to access information online, making an already depersonalized process. Transferring information across healthcare providers is an extensive task, one that is only truly matched by the effort required to get the necessary referrals from one doctor to another.
For Paul Kohlhaas and Vincent Weisser at Molecule, these are just symptoms of a wider problem: the extent to which profit has become excessive – if not the — decisive factor in medicine. With a high-level goal of curing diseases, they are most interested in the question of how to fix a broken market, starting with addressing a lack of data liquidity. Ahead of speaking at next week’s SynBioBeta conference, they shared some key insights about their big-picture thinking.
“Our thesis is that the best way to solve these problems is to involve patients as a platform for driving and funding research. So we think of Molecule as a Kickstarter-type marketplace for translation work for these communities,” explains Weisser, Chief Ecosystem Development Officer. In other words, to fix problems in the doctor’s office, Molecule wants to put patients in the driver’s seat with regard to the very data that makes them treatable at all.
Molecule is not just a ‘version’ of Kickstarter for biology. More definitively, it is a conglomerate of decentralized autonomous organizations (more commonly referred to as DAOs) built around a cryptocurrency protocol that decentralizes funding and ownership of intellectual property. By using this protocol and its instruments – specifically IP-NFTs or intangible non-fungible tokens – to tokenize sponsored research agreements, Molecule aims to make these aspects of the research process more transferable and fluid. “Both computing and data science talent are illiquid, and this is a technology problem,” Weisser asserts. “How do we find knowledge without giving up ‘proprietary stuff’? Bringing data rooms from the paper age to the digital age is part of this.” Rather than more centralized information sharing agreements, these IP NFTs are designed to encourage participation and collaboration in a much larger environment with more liquidity baked in, without having to patent innovations along the way.
Kohlhaas, as co-founder and CEO of Molecule, cites his background in economics and interest in systems thinking and design as fundamental to his understanding of problems stemming from centralizing government in terms of funding, replication, competition and communication. “Incentives for medicines to be brought to market are not to cure, but to treat people and build sustainable business models around medicine,” he argues. “So in response to that, we can attach IP rights to a research agreement with an NFT as a digital carrier of that asset, so it’s easier to trade IP, rather than having to use a limited company. Given how the system works, is this a mechanism for faster funding and more valuable scientific assets that can be easily traded.”
This focus on intellectual property and funding is the bedrock of a number of thriving communities, attuned to specific incentives as they come from diverse backgrounds, to spin the flywheel of intellectual property generation, for additional funding to drive further research. This platform approach aims to bring together patients, researchers and investors to be able to own and manage IP through these tokens – taking back control from the unauthorized doctor visit.
Part of this exercise in governance includes being able to prioritize what kind of research should be pursued, and one such overlooked area for Molecule is longevity research. “Treating aging is like a vaccine. It is important to be open to new paradigms for treating diseases, and crypto-based communities are one step ahead of the medical establishment in terms of being able to see where things can go,” Weisser argues. “We can end up with cheaper drugs if you treat the root cause of disease as opposed to the fragmented diseases you might otherwise get — for example, many different cancers.”
Concretely within Molecule, this focus on longevity has taken the form of VitaDAO. The membership includes people who contribute either funding or time in the form of work; in return, they receive governance tokens that make it possible to vote, for example, on proposed research projects. Membership based on contributed work is one of the ways this “Bio DAO” differs from other investment DAOs, and the infrastructure is designed to prioritize people as patients over more traditional shareholders or other forms of stakeholders.
“Users have to participate in a trustless system,” says Kohlhaas. “This type of work reduces the risk of system failure and fatal error by focusing on shared values and self-governance through token economy.” For both Weisser and Kohlhaas, some of these changes in how humans interact with human health only portend future benefits from the larger Decentralized Science (or DeSci) movement. “Overall, what we’re trying to do is study what’s wrong with science funding and figure out how to fix it,” Weisser emphasizes. “It is too bureaucratic, slow and centralized, so we need to make it as fast, digital, simple and unbureaucratic as possible. Instead of having things centrally owned by one government body, it’s by a community that cares and wants to get things to market.”
Within the Molecule world, several communities are already taking shape to thrive with various research DAOs. Using an accelerator-like set of best principles to build more efficiently in web3, bio.xyz has partnered with Molecule to help launch Bio DAOs around synthetic biology, hair loss, psychedelics, women’s health and more. “This is not just a moral problem, it is an economic problem,” emphasizes Kohlhaas. “I want to live in a Star Trek world. How do we get there? How do we get to abundance?” Molecule certainly points the way towards that kind of future, one atom of community at a time.
Thanks to Aishani Aatresh for further research and reporting on this article. I am the founder of SynBioBeta and some of the companies I write about, including Molecule, are sponsors of SynBioBeta Conference and weekly digestion.
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