The Resolving Pharma team is pleased to inaugurate a series of interviews with start-ups creating the pharmaceutical world of tomorrow with this interview with Molecule, a young and ambitious German company willing to change the rules of Drug Development by using Blockchain technology in a new way.
We would like to thank the Molecule team for this exchange and especially Heinrich Tessendorf.
Some of the terms used in this interview are technical and very specific to the field of Blockchain, in order to facilitate the understanding of the Molecule.to project, a glossary has been added at the end of the interview. Do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions or wish to discuss the subject. Have a good read!
This interview was conducted by Alexandre Demailly and Quentin Vicentini.
Resolving Pharma: With Molecule, you are trying to reinvent, among other things, the financing of pharmaceutical research and development. Can you explain how your platform works?
Molecule: Our platform is a marketplace that moves early-stage IP into web3 via NFTs. This is coupled with frameworks to build biotech DAOs and communities coming together to fund research in specific therapeutic areas. These communities consist of patients, researchers, and enthusiasts.
Practically, all of this comes together when researchers upload a project on our website. From here on forward, other researchers, investors or patient communities can discover these (and other) projects and decide where to invest. Once these role players have decided where to invest, they can connect their web3 wallet (e.g. Metamask) and fund the project by purchasing it as an IP-NFT. IP rights could immediately be transferred to the purchaser and funds could be transferred to the researcher at the exact same time.
Resolving Pharma: What are your company’s goals? What is your vision?
Molecule: Our vision is simple – we see patient, researcher, and investor communities forming to fund and govern end-to-end drug development. We enable this by making IP a highly liquid, data-driven asset class.
Over the next 2+ years, our goal is that our protocol will fund as much R&D as a mid-sized pharma company. With this, we’re ambitious to double our team, launch Molecule V2 and the Molecule DAO, see the first asset out licensed to Pharma, and realize the first patient-led use cases just to name a few.
Our hope is that decentralised biotech will do for access to therapies and medicine what FinTech and Decentralised finance did for how we manage and get access to financial services.
Resolving Pharma: How are submitted projects selected and evaluated?
On Molecule’s Discover App, any researcher can upload their project and investors can discover them. Currently we have over 300 projects listed on this platform. We, as Molecule, don’t evaluate these projects – it’s up to investors to decide what projects they want to invest in.
On VitaDAO’s Project Submission Form you can submit your longevity-focused project, but the concept is different in that there, you apply for funding for your project from VitaDAO. We do due diligence in ways similar to how the biopharmaceutical industry currently operates. Namely, they evaluate assets and research as a business opportunity where they’ll take into account market size, competition, team, etc. However, VitaDAO wants to pursue more high-risk and earlier stage projects than those in which traditional funding mechanisms show interest. Also, they want to focus on projects that promote longevity/healthspan/lifespan per se. This is notable because aging isn’t recognized as a disease by government agencies such as the FDA. Therefore, its market can’t be estimated traditionally. They accept this risk and have strategies including pursuing clinical trials in countries with favorable legal framework and/or countries willing to work together to design clinical trials with biomarkers that are relevant to longevity/healthspan/lifespan per se.
Projects submitted for funding through VitaDAO are evaluated by VitaDAO’s scientific evaluation board. They’ll then come up with a suggestion for or against funding. Evaluation is independent of the final decision for funding. If a project qualifies for funding it moves over to an on-chain funding proposal and VitaDAO token holders eventually vote for or against funding the project.
Resolving Pharma: How to invest in a research project using your platform?
Molecule: Currently, every investor needs to be a verified user on Molecule to invest in research projects. To enable you to directly invest in a research project, we need some information from the investor. Our platform is web3 enabled, so once investors have been whitelisted and selected a project they would like to fund it would be similar to how you would purchase an NFT on OpenSea. Practically, the steps would look like this:
Create an investor account on discover.molecule.to
Explore research projects in your field of interest. If you want to get in touch with specific researchers that have no contact information listed, feel free to reach out to us via firstname.lastname@example.org
Get whitelisted for IP-NFT sales: To participate in IP-NFT sales and make binding offers to researchers, Molecule needs to collect certain information from investors. This information will be used primarily to enable investors to sign the underlying legal agreements connected to IP-NFTs. To trigger the whitelisting process, please get in touch with email@example.com
Bid on IP-NFTs: You are now ready to make offers for new research projects or existing IP-NFTs. We will keep you informed of new funding opportunities arising on Molecule Discovery. If you are interested in funding research projects which are not listed on Molecule yet, feel free to put the researcher in touch with the Molecule team.
Transfer of funds and receiving the IP-NFT: After your bid has been accepted by a researcher, you will be asked to transfer the funds to an escrow account. As soon as the funds are received, the escrow contract will release the IP-NFT to the origin address of the funds.
Manage your IP-NFT: After you have received the IP-NFT, you are now able to manage it on the molecule platform. View the IP-NFT, make selling offers, or review the underlying legal agreement and data (to be added) via the Molecule platform.
Resolving Pharma: How can individual investors choose between different projects?
Molecule: Individual investors will need to do their own due-diligence (DYOR) and consult a scientific advisor. Individuals will most likely choose projects that interest them personally, e.g. someone with a family member living with a certain disease. A lot of the information they require will be on the project page, but they can reach out to individual researchers through the project page on our Discovery app to ask further questions.
In the case where a DAO (e.g. VitaDAO) funds a project, the DAO has a group of subject matter experts (the scientific evaluation board) which advise the DAO on which projects to fund. The decision is then formalised by a governance proposal which is put up to a vote and the final decision is made by all token holders ($Vita in this case). Token holders then vote on these proposals through a simple yes or no vote.
Resolving Pharma: What are the advantages of decentralizing drug development?
Molecule: If IP is siloed and owned by individual companies, these companies could have a very strong bias towards only publishing positive data and this leads to information asymmetry. That’s not how science is supposed to be done. The research community could achieve desired outcomes much faster if research were done more openly and collaboratively. Learning can be done much faster and costs saved by reducing the duplication work through failed experiments. One thing which can help facilitate this is getting attention on research projects through a global public marketplace.
Resolving Pharma: How does your model differ from that offered by crowdfunding platforms?
Molecule: Molecule’s platform is different from crowdfunding, because novel approaches to democratised ownership mean stakeholders can directly co-own the therapies that affect them. Imagine a world where a new insulin treatment is collectively owned by diabetics – what would that do to access and pricing? What if patients could have a direct impact and say in the drugs developed for them? Communities help bring drugs to market through crowd intelligence and curation markets, not just funding, but co-owning.
Resolving Pharma: Can you explain the concept of IP-NFT? How is it secured from a legal point of view?
Molecule: The IP-NFT is a new NFT standard that we’ve developed. IP-NFTs represent the full legal intellectual property rights and provide data access to biopharma research. Think of the IP-NFT as a unique token on the Ethereum blockchain. This token will link to a legal agreement that the researcher will have concluded with investors. Through fractionalization, frictionless transfer, and collateralisation of IP in decentralised financial (DeFi) systems, it unlocks new value in biopharma IP. Fundamentally, IP-NFT enables funding, liquidity and valuation of the IP and research.
From a legal perspective, the IP-NFT transacts real-world legal rights/licences of the IP. It does this by means of a legal contract and a smart contract that cross-references one another. The legal contract is an IP license with language referencing blockchain transactions, addresses, and signatures. The smart contract is an NFT with code referencing the IP licensing agreement, obfuscating certain data components and storing them on decentralised file storage networks. Combined, the legal contract and the smart contract create the IP-NFT. This gives secure access control to the IP and data to buyers and in the process speeds up due diligence and saves costs. You can learn more about the technical and legal setup of an IP-NFT in this Medium article.
Resolving Pharma: How are decisions made regarding the management of the project’s intellectual property? What is the role of the DAO?
Molecule: VitaDAO is governed by its members. All decisions undergo a pre-defined decision-making process that is inclusive and transparent to all members. Smaller decisions are made informally on VitaDAO’s Discourse forum or Discord, but can be escalated to require an on-chain vote where anyone who owns Vita tokens can vote. Decisions that are contested, have a notable impact on VitaDAO’s stakeholders, affect processes in a fundamental way, or involve a significant use of funds, always undergo an on-chain vote and require a relative majority of token holders to agree.
Resolving Pharma: In this regard, can you introduce us to VitaDAO? How could this project extend human life expectancy?
Molecule: VitaDAO is a decentralised organisation funding longevity research and governing biotech IP and data via IP-NFTs. Think about VitaDAO as the vehicle towards the democratization of access to therapeutics in the biotech world in order to make these assets widely accessible to people across the globe.
Considering the project’s role in extending human life expectancy, VitaDAO funds early stage research, and could, for example, turn these research projects into biotech companies. As an example, the first project that VitaDAO funded is seeking to validate longevity observations through a series of wet lab experiments and if successful, this work could potentially result in the repurposing of several FDA-approved therapeutics to extend human lifespan, at a lower cost and over faster timelines than conceivably possible with de novo drug discovery.
Resolving Pharma: If our readers want to help you and participate in your projects, what can they do?
If you wish to learn more about the project, you can refer to
- The company’s website: https://www.molecule.to/
- The company’s Medium blog: https://medium.com/molecule-blog
- As well as the various talks and conferences given by Tyler and Paul, the two co-founders of Molecule: https ://youtube.com/playlist?list=PLeOXpfDM0Oy7aIg7wIfFRxiTADbBbUyLC
- Web3: “Web3 refers to a third generation of the Internet where online services and platforms move to a model based on blockchains and cryptocurrencies. In theory, this means that infrastructures are decentralised and anyone who has a token associated with that infrastructure has some control over it. This model of the web represents a financialised vision of the internet.”
- NFT for Non-Fungible Token: “An NFT refers to a digital file to which a digital certificate of authenticity has been attached. More precisely, the NFT is a cryptographic token stored on a blockchain. The digital file alone is fungible, whether it is a photo, video or other, the associated NFT is non-fungible.”
- DAOs: “A DAO (Decentralized Autonomous Organization) is an entity powered by a computer program that provides automated governance rules to a community. The DAO is a complex, smart contract deployed on the Ethereum blockchain, similar to a decentralised venture capital fund. These rules are immutably and transparently written into a blockchain, a secure information storage and transmission technology that operates without a central controlling body. A DAO differs, in theory, from a traditional entity in three ways: it cannot be stopped or closed, no one or no organisation can control it (and thus manipulate its numbers) and, finally, everything is transparent and auditable, all within a supranational framework. A DAO is based on computer code: its operating rules are public and it is not based on any jurisdiction.
- WhiteList: “The term whitelist defines, in the context of Blockchain projects, a set of people who are assigned a maximum level of freedom or trust in a particular system.