Lead researcher behind VitaDAO’s first project reveals more about his work and why crypto provides an exciting new funding option for longevity scientists.
Later this week, VitaDAO, the decentralised intellectual property collective with a focus on human longevity, will commence a public auction of its governance tokens (VITA). The VitaDAO community determines the value of VITA by contributing work, funds or IP, and this week’s auction will see the sale of “genesis” tokens. Genesis means that no tokens have been created or sold to anyone before.
“The genesis auction uses a ‘batch auction’ design via smart contracts developed by Gnosis on the Ethereum blockchain,” says Molecule’s Tyler Golato, a co-initiator of VitaDAO. “Anyone holding Ether may participate. Batch auctions are a transparent price discovery mechanism commonly used in the distribution of public utility contracts, for example by Google. We hope to ensure a fully fair and transparent launch that is run by the community, for the community.”
VitaDAO hopes to raise enough funds to support a minimum of five projects initially, and will have the option to carry out further funding rounds in the future. The community will determine the token value, market cap, and raise amount via the auction mechanism mentioned above. Only 10% of the initial token supply is being auctioned, and the majority of tokens will remain in the DAO treasury, under the community’s control, for future liquidity events and incentive programmes.
Longevity.Technology: VitaDAO’s first project, The Longevity Molecule, relates to research being conducted at the University of Copenhagen. We caught up with the project’s leader, Associate Professor Morten Scheibye-Knudsen, to learn more about his work and his views on this new approach to funding longevity research.
Scheibye-Knudsen, whose lab focuses on understanding the molecular basis of aging, has conducted extensive work to understand how damage to our DNA might contribute to aging. This work has led to drug discovery collaborations with organisations including Insilico Medicine.
“I’m a medical doctor by background, and I’ve always been interested in aging interventions, so anything that could be eventually put out into the clinic is very interesting to me,” says Scheibye-Knudsen.
Linking prescriptions to longevity
Crucially, the lab has access to more than 50 years’ worth of data from the Danish National Health Service Prescription Database. The registry contains extensive data on the Danish population, from the day they are born and when they die, to diseases they suffered and prescriptions they received.
“We have access to that data and have been able to look for associations between prescriptions and lifespan,” explains Scheibye-Knudsen. “This is a an amazingly well-annotated database – containing more than a billion datapoints. It’s huge.”
The lab has looked at a number of “low-hanging fruit”, including, for example, Metformin, which Scheibye-Knudsen says does not, by itself, appear to be associated with longevity – in Denmark at least.
“If you look at it in people that are aged over 70, we do see a slight longevity effect, but that effect crosses over the median survival curve of the Danish population at some point, which may be due to the underlying diagnosis that people who get Metformin have.
“So there’s a diagnostic bias, and we try to get around this by looking at drugs that are given for the same diagnosis, and then looking at drugs that then confer a survival benefit compared to other drugs that are given to that diagnosis. What’s encouraging about the drugs that we are looking at in terms of lifespan is that they are already tested in humans, and so getting closer to the mechanistic outcome will be very interesting.”
“Extremely promising” compounds
Using this approach, the Scheibye-Knudsen lab has identified a number of existing drugs with human longevity potential that are now the focus of the Longevity Molecule project on VitaDAO.
“I think we are in a good position, because we have quite a lot of drug development experience,” says Scheibye-Knudsen. “So whatever we find, which are likely to be off-target effects, will mean that there’s an opportunity to generate new IP, and we’ll be able to pursue that further with target identification and modifications of the molecules to make them more efficient. So I think we’re in quite a unique position to do this, which is very exciting.”
The VitaDAO project gives its community the opportunity to invest in the lab’s research – initially focused on three lead compounds identified as having most promise to impact longevity, with the potential for more compounds to be added.
“These are three compounds that are extremely promising, with a high probability of affecting lifespan, with the possibility then of expanding to 10 molecules,” says Scheibye-Knudsen, who hopes to raise around 0.5 million Euros through the VitaDAO community. “This funding would allow us to test for lifespan in human cell lines, including the effect on senescence, and in animal (fly) models.”
If the first round of experiments is successful, the project can raise follow-on funding from the VitaDAO community to continue the work. VitaDAO hopes to be able to support the project all the way to the clinic, if possible.
A new funding mechanism
As a lab leader, a significant part of Scheibye-Knudsen’s time is spent fundraising for projects. And so the VitaDAO concept was a breath of fresh air for him.
“I really like the idea that everybody can get ownership of this IP,” he says. “As a researcher, I don’t think any research is driven by financial gains, so for me, this altruistic idea of allowing everybody to actually get part of what we’re doing, I think it’s really exciting.
“And, because this will be a community effort, we will have weekly updates with our scientific progress, which will allow everybody to follow the scientific research programme as it is developed. It’s never a straight path, which I think would be very interesting for people to see.”
Ultimately, Scheibye-Knudsen believes that VitaDAO presents an entirely new funding mechanism for scientific researchers that is actually about much more than just funding.
“It can enable a connection with the community, including lay people that are interested in their research, which I think is very important and extremely valuable,” he says. “You can get crazy ideas from people outside, but they can also be inspiring. My own group is a quite diverse group and I really seek diversity because you get different ideas, and we need many different ideas for us to solve this problem.”
Applications will open for additional projects on VitaDAO immediately following the launch of the auction this Friday. Anyone interested in funding can apply at www.VitaDAO.com.