As we reported last week, Indysci is a new project funds open-source scientific projects that anyone can look at, modify, or use. The first project on the agenda, dubbed Project Marilyn, will pour donations into research for a patent-less cure for cancer.
The organization accepts Bitcoin, and if they receive enough Bitcoin donations, they will name an anticancer drug after Bitcoin founder Satoshi Nakamoto: Satoshimycin. Basically, Bitcoin donations are helping along scientific crowdfunding site with a non-traditional fundraising bent.
Now Cointelegraph had an opportunity to explore Isaac Yonemoto's, PhD, personal vision Indysci, Bitcoin along with the new opportunities offered by cryptocurrencies for scientific funding.
Cointelegraph: What's your background? What prompted Indysci?
Isaac Yonemoto: I'm a PhD chemist - I founded indysci to complete a project that I had worked on that wound up abandoned because my previous boss had quit. I've never been particularly fond of patents, so I was presented with a once-in-a lifetime opportunity to work on a project that would enable me to develop a drug without patents. Although it may seem unusual, quite a bit of early-stage drug development is done in nonprofits, namely universities, so I set up my own (indysci) to work on this project.
CT: Can you tell me a little bit about your interest in Bitcoin?
IY: I've been programming computers since age 6, and although I do chemistry, my undergraduate degree is in mathematics. Although I came to Bitcoin a bit late, the concept of a distributed trust model supported by cryptographic protocols fascinates me. I also think that having a less-inflationary money model makes for more charitable people in the long run. We've already seen how Bitcoin has enabled charitable operations like Sean's Outpost; these organizations are a big inspiration to what I'm doing.
CT: Vendors that accept Bitcoin are still a minority along with many crowdfunding efforts. Why accept Bitcoin?
IY: Now that the APIs have matured, accepting Bitcoin wasn't hard to implement - I did it myself. I know bitcoiners tend to also be philosophically aligned with indysci's core open-source mission, and are a vocal and supportive community. Working with this community has been rewarding, both in terms of donations, and in terms of getting a sense of community.
CT: Lighthouse is a decentralized crowdfunding platform run over Bitcoin. Indysci's crowdfunding-Bitcoin pairing reminds me of this. What are the chances of Indysci moving to this sort of a platform if/when it kicks off?
IY: I'd not heard of lighthouse before, but I'd like to still accept pledges in dollars. Aside from technical challenges, there are some "donor policy" choices that come up, for example, because bitcoins are more difficult to refund. But I am confident I made the right choices and am excited to see Bitcoin donations come in - we're at more than 70% of the 10 BTC challenge goal of making an anticancer drug named after Satoshi. It's certainly possible though that we will fund something entirely in Bitcoin in the future, especially if someone expresses interest in such a project.
CT: What does “Project Marilyn” mean?
IY: Marilyn was a dear friend who passed away of triple-negative breast cancer, one of the types of cancer the drug I'm developing is known to target.
CT: What's behind Indysci's push for patent-less pharmaceuticals?
IY: The cost of anticancer drugs is exorbitant. Last Sunday, 60 minutes did a piece describing how patients are often paying upwards of US$100,000 a year to treat cancer. Part of their expose outlined some of the dangerous conflicts of interest in the drug-prescribing system. But it would also be nice to have downward price pressure created by competition.
Pharmaceutical companies are effectively isolated from this pressure because of patents, so I want to know, ‘is it possible to make a drug without patents?’ If it is, which I strongly believe is the case, then when these drugs are expensive, it's because they really do cost a lot to make. All that needs to happen is someone needs to step up and actually do it, and since I seem to have a lead start on that, I'm the best shot at the moment.
I think it's also worth remembering that Salk and Sabin developed the polio vaccines (which have nearly eradicated the scourge) without patents. It's incredible that the biology industry has been slow to adopt the open-source model, since 'copying' and 'sharing' is built into biological and bioengineering processes. While not perfect, so many successful software projects are built on the open-source philosophy- from Linux, to Wikipedia, to Bitcoin, so I think that we have a lot to gain as a society by more broadly adopting these philosophies.
CT: Could crowdfunding potentially disrupt how they've been funded and produced so far?
IY: I see crowdfunding more as a tool to raise money and perhaps more importantly, show that there is broad support for what I'm trying to do. I believe with that support it's easier to gain institutional funds or 'big donors’ and eventually manufacturing partners for the project. For the next stages of Project Marilyn, I'd like to explore other ways of funding science besides crowdfunding, but if enough people are interested and involved it might still be a good idea.
CT: What's in the future for Indysci? Open-source crowdfunding projects, Bitcoin, or otherwise?
IY: Beyond Project Marilyn, I have some other anti-cancer ideas, one that I half-jokingly call "cancer-fighting nanorobots" (they're not really robots, but they are 'programmable'). The real disruption down the line that I see is in the way that we fund science. Bitcoiners will appreciate this quote - Peter Thiel says, "I think there's been a Gresham's Law in science funding in this country, as the political people who are nimble in the art of writing government grants have gradually displaced the eccentric and idiosyncratic people who typically make the best scientists. The eccentric university professor is a species that is going extinct fast."
I'm not sure that I believe in the eccentric scientist stereotype, but the rest of the quote resonates with my personal experience as a scientist, and my basic understanding of monetary systems.
Although Project Marilyn is "applied science", over the long term, I would like for indysci to solve the problem of 'funding basic science.’ Although people typically say that "government should fund basic science because there's no profit motive,” I take the contrarian view that it exactly shouldn't because there is little accountability in basic science because confirmation of results and validation through utility can be decades or centuries down the line -- it's too easy for funding streams to become corrupt.
So to me that is the end goal.
CT: What's your favorite color?
IY: As a child, I used to like the color green, but now I like blue a lot better.