scorecardA tiny startup wants to pay you for your DNA, and it could lead to the next wave of medical innovation
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A tiny startup wants to pay you for your DNA, and it could lead to the next wave of medical innovation

A tiny startup wants to pay you for your DNA, and it could lead to the next wave of medical innovation
LifeScience3 min read
The LunaDNA team.    Courtesy LunaDNA

  • A startup called LunaDNA is taking a new approach to genetic research by paying individuals to share their information with scientists.
  • Right now, some DNA testing companies already sell your genome for medical research, though you can usually opt out.
  • You probably won't get rich off your DNA. LunaDNA estimates the value of your whole genome at $21, for now.

More and more, researchers are studying individuals' genetic information to find new medical treatments.

But a big challenge has been collecting enough information from enough people to find new cures. A startup called LunaDNA is pioneering a new approach, offering to pay people for their DNA and other health information.

Individuals will get shares of LunaDNA for providing their genetic data, as well as for activities like uploading their medical records or keeping track of what they eat and how much they work out. The idea is that the more someone participates, the more stock they'll accumulate, and the more they'll be rewarded.

"The people we want to attract are looking to solve a problem together, to help get in the fight against disease," Dawn Barry, the company's president and a co-founder, said in a November interview. "It's not so much how much money you want to get back - people are in it for the altruism."

DNA testing startups like 23andMe already sell your genetic information for medical research, though you can opt out. Unlike 23andMe, LunaDNA doesn't provide the genetic testing itself. Instead, users can upload their files from companies like 23andMe.

The venture is just getting started. LunaDNA has raised $4 million and employs 12 people. The US Securities and Exchange Commission signed off this week on LunaDNA's plans to give individuals stock, and the company's web portal where users can upload their info opened on Wednesday.

LunaDNA wants to give you more control over how your data is used, and directly compensate you for sharing more. The company will provide aggregated data to researchers with identifying information removed, and only with the consent of the individuals involved. Members can delete their data from the platform at any time.

Read more: DNA-testing company 23andMe has signed a $300 million deal with a drug giant. Here's how to delete your data if that freaks you out.

"When value is created, it's not all kept by the institution," Barry said in a December interview. "It's actually distributed back to the community."

Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

A DNA testing kit.

You probably won't get rich by selling your genetic information. Unlike stock in a company, the shares that LunaDNA is giving its users don't have a monetary value and can't be bought or sold. Instead, they'll give users regular payouts when LunaDNA starts making money.

Read more: I've taken AncestryDNA, 23andMe, and National Geographic genetics tests - here's how to choose one to try

The company estimates the value of a user's whole genome at $21, or 300 shares. It'll give you 2 shares, worth 14 cents, for 20 days of nutrition or fitness data. As more users sign on to the site, and more researchers begin using it, the goal is for those values to increase, Barry said.

LunaDNA was founded in October 2017 by veterans of the DNA sequencing company Illumina, and counts Illumina Ventures among its backers. Barry, 44, worked at Illumina for a dozen years and CEO Bob Kain, 57, was an Illumina employee for 15 years. The third co-founder, chief finance officer David Lewis, 47, previously worked at an investment company.

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