In the past 60 years, the life expectancy of the average newborn has increased by nearly 20 years — from 52.5 to 72, as of 2018. We’ve seen an incredible wave of technological innovation in this time: The introduction of the internet, medical breakthroughs and an enhanced understanding of public health initiatives have transformed the course of human life. And with new technologies like blockchain and artificial intelligence now taking the stage, we know that even more radical transformation is coming. These disruptive technologies are paving the way for both longer and healthier lifespans.
To show you just how much healthcare has advanced thanks to these technologies, I want to highlight a case study of two unique companies, Insilico Medicine and Longenesis. Together, they show how the development of AI for medical care has grown in tandem with the advent of blockchain healthcare applications.
In 2014, longevity innovator Alex Zhavoronkov and their company, Insilico Medicine, reached out to me. The company was based on a simple but radical premise: using AI to accelerate drug discovery and development. At the time, the use of AI was still nascent, both in public awareness and its applications to medicine. But in the seven years since I invested in this company, it has used AI to transform research and development in the therapeutics sector completely. Its rapid discovery and development of new therapies result from the incredible amount of data they process searching for the next best cure. Rich in source and scope, this data comes from the genomic and proteomic sequences of actual healthcare patients. Through dozens of new drug candidates, they have shown tremendous potential in using AI for data-driven healthcare.
However, the groundbreaking progress made by Insilico was not without obstacles. Working with massive amounts of data presented unique challenges regarding centralization and security. Data in healthcare tends to be scattered and siloed. Each doctor, medical center and hospital maintains its silo and, due to privacy regulations, data is typically only shared when necessary for patient care. Having access to synthesized patient data was critical for Insilico’s AI algorithms to be successful, and it just wasn’t available.
Privacy and blockchain tech
In looking for solutions to the security and centralization concerns associated with this type of data, Alex and the team at Insilico Medicine soon discovered blockchain and distributed ledger technology. The immutability of entries on the blockchain and the ability to have multiple decentralized nodes contributing data to a shared ledger offered a solution to the complex problems associated with patient data. This technology was what they had been looking for, but they needed a partner to build it with them. Insilico formed a joint venture with leading European blockchain company Bitfury (now one of the largest emerging technology companies on the continent) and launched a new company named Longenesis. Longenesis’ aim was clear: to create a blockchain healthcare ecosystem that considered the sensitive requirements of health data and the application needs of biotech research.
Related: Concerns around data privacy are rising, and blockchain is the solution
Longenesis designed a blockchain-based environment for stakeholders across the healthcare/biotech industry, including patient organizations, biomedical research groups, and research partners and sponsors. The beauty of Longenesis’ solution is that there is always a record of consent. When patients agree to share their data for any purpose, there is immutable proof of their permission.
Its first product, Curator, is used by hospitals and other care organizations to safely and compliantly present the data available for researchers without compromising patient privacy. This function empowers researchers to review datasets without endangering the security of patient information. When a researcher or company is interested in using the data, Longenesis’ second product Engage provides it. Engage also allows hospitals and researchers to quickly onboard patients into new medical trials and research, recording ongoing patient consent. Regardless of whether AI is being used to analyze new data from a medical trial or “old” data from medical records, patients know about it and can decide to consent at their convenience. Longenesis has deployed this solution in state hospitals, government biobanks and more. Its work empowers AI companies such as Insilico Medicine to access vast amounts of data that can be used for artificial intelligence analysis, leading to even more treatment and drug discovery.
Data, blockchain and human longevity
While I’ve highlighted two companies here, there are thousands of outstanding startups, research institutions and physicians working tirelessly to improve the human lifespan. They could all benefit from blockchain-unlocked data and the analytical power of artificial intelligence.
The average hospital generates 760 terabytes of data annually, yet 80% of this valuable data is unstructured and unavailable to researchers. It needs to remain secure, and patients need to provide ongoing consent for its use. This disconnect is holding back progress across every aspect of medicine. The pairing of blockchain and AI can unlock this data for analysis, facilitate patient consent, track usage of clinical data and more.
Without blockchain, artificial intelligence lacks the ethically sourced and protected biomedical data it needs to find new solutions. Without artificial intelligence, the vast amounts of data protected by blockchain remain secure but unusable for research. Progress happens when these innovations work together, just as critical public health initiatives of past decades succeeded thanks to the advent of the World Wide Web. Then, our goal must be to bring these technologies more fully to market so longevity-focused care can be accessible to all.
The views, thoughts and opinions expressed here are the author’s alone and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views and opinions of Cointelegraph.
Author’s note: Both entities, Insilico Medicine and Longenesis, are portfolio companies of our longevity-focused VC firm, LongeVC.