One day in the near future, we’ll wake up in the morning and the first thing we hear will be a personal digital assistant providing us information on our relative mental and physical well being without having to ask.
Based on continuously streaming wearable or implantable device data, interactive gamified surveys on our phone, our health histories, microbiome and genome profiles, artificial intelligence algorithms will continuously monitor our health, searching for early symptoms of disease, chronic condition flare-ups, or assisting us with diet or fitness goals. Today’s data innovations are not only ground-breaking, they’re life-changing.
Artificial Intelligence’s (AI) power will be unleashed when there is comprehensive, detailed, and longitudinal data available at population scale. AI combined with continuous data contributions over time, by individuals, will power discoveries for society, while also enabling personalized medicine for the individual. In the near future, complex health and medical problems will be solved at an exponentially increasing rate, ultimately improving quality of life for all.
But this vision of our future is not limited by technological innovation. Rather, it’s limited by people’s trust or lack thereof in any organization working to collect comprehensive individual data. How many people will willingly and continuously contribute detailed personal health & medical data to organizations that they don’t have a deep, trusting relationship with? And consumer trust can only be earned by enabling individuals to control their data, know when and how their data is being used, and share in any windfall gains earned from the data.
That’s why the public benefit corporation, LunaPBC, founded the LunaDNA Platform, a data-sharing and research discovery platform. Anyone and everyone can remotely, digitally, and easily participate in science, with privacy protection, full data control (consistent with CCPA & GDPR), as well as transparent operations. LunaDNA is accelerating medical breakthroughs by advancing people from subjects of research to partners in discovery. Through this community data-driven discovery, the most important questions are answered, the right problems are solved, and people’s lived experiences are included in cutting-edge studies and trials.
Innovation has always been proudly hailed as a core value in business, and rightfully so. Every business leader will admit this powerful tool supports developing valuable technologies, designing disruptive products, and vastly improving the way products or services are delivered to optimize business models. But what seeds innovation? How might business leaders develop this skill to make true, impactful change? It starts with creativity.
When applied appropriately, creativity is the secret sauce for improving organizational efficiency, decreasing costs, reducing risks, improving morale, and of course, seeding innovation. It is a crucial organization asset all too often left untapped. Fortunately, we all have the capacity to be creative in solving problems and carrying out work responsibilities.
Developing a creative organization often starts with 1) clearly communicating the organizational challenges staff should consider, steering the creativity process squarely in the direction of value creation, and 2) teaching the fundamentals of the creativity process.
Organizations must encourage and nurture creative thinking and the sharing of ideas between employees. Innovation can arise when the right creative ideas are then implemented to solve important challenges and move the company forward to meet its goals. It is critical to continuously engage team members on the organization’s mission, goals, and main tactical challenges, while empowering them to think about, share, and discuss ideas.
Identifying the key problems to be solved, root causes of the problems and the strengths and weaknesses of existing options often enables us to surface valuable, new, creative solutions.”
Initial ideas may sometimes be silly, impractical, or seem to result in new problems, however, the journey to the right solution follows a path of thoughtful analysis of many wrong solutions. This deep understanding of the problem, the landscape around the problem, and the intricate details of the flaws in proposed solutions lead us to new creative solutions.
Implementing Creativity to Impact Genomic Sequencing
Reflecting back on my 15-year career at Illumina, architecting the HiSeq is a great example of creativity utilizing technology tools to design a disruptive new product. Illumina, the biotech giant, was in a heated competition fighting to stay a half step ahead in the marketplace by introducing incremental product improvements to its Genome Analyzer DNA sequencing machine. Simultaneously, some of us focused our thinking on a bet-the-company strategy to reduce sequencing costs by at least a factor of ten. To accomplish this, we first had to understand and model the transformation that occurs in order to convert biological information — the A, C, T, and G’s in our genome – to digital information that could be stored on a computer. Based on this understanding and knowledge of available technology building blocks, the HiSeq instrument was architected using technologies that followed Moore’s Law improvement curves. We chose technologies that would both provide an order of magnitude improvement over competitive offerings at launch, and provide a decade-long product roadmap that would improve on performance by two orders of magnitude. The resulting HiSeq product line not only broke the $1,000 genome barrier, but it was also capable of bringing the cost per genome down to $100 in the future.
Reinventing Industry Business Models
Similarly, LunaDNA’s solution to catalyzing health research is an example of creatively reinventing the industry business model to enable unfettered access to health data and accelerate the pace of discovery. This mission-driven journey began years before co-founding the organization when many of its executives from Illumina began investigating impediments to understanding how the human genome impacts health.
We uncovered multiple factors slowing the pace of discoveries, including structural impediments. Institutions refused to share data, viewing this information as proprietary assets on their balance sheet. Attempts to establish federated data systems linking data from national genome centers, academic medical institutions, and for-profit organizations failed. Even when federated models included organizational permissioning and price setting for data access, there was little interest in data sharing. The personal data of individuals was being scooped up and locked away as organizational bounty.
We also identified social impediments to data sharing. In 2013, I sponsored a scientific meeting at the Banbury Center at Cold Spring Harbor titled Accelerating Genomic Research With Privacy Protections to determine the extent to which we, as a society, can protect genomic information and utilize it for the greater good. Many experts in the field were invited. Attendees reviewed technical options to protect privacy and security, and explored the challenges faced by academic researchers, hospital systems, and direct-to-consumer genetics companies in engaging study participants and soliciting consent for data sharing.
It was at this Banbury meeting where we learned that an increasing participant engagement could not be solved solely by technology alone. Lack of engagement could be attributed to the individual’s lack of trust in the data stewardship. The group authored a White Paper published in PLOS Biology, entitled Redefining Genomic Privacy: Trust and Empowerment. The paper concluded that trust and empowerment were the keys to gaining consent and engagement from study participants, and this gaining of trust could be accomplished through transparency, control, and reciprocity around the use of their data. Needless to say, the lack of creativity the future of health discovery was facing was apparent to many experts in the field.
As the meeting progressed, we shifted our focus from discovering links between our genome and our health to more generally improving health and quality of life. We became aware of additional impediments caused by “missing data” in studies; data that only exists in the heads of individuals. Examples of this missing data include patient-reported outcomes, patient adherence to physician recommendations, and behavioral information such as diet and exercise. This missing data could only be accessed by forming a trusted relationship with individuals, establishing long-term engagement, and educating people on the value to themselves and the communities of their participation in health research.
Creatively Changing Societal and Regulatory Issues of Data Ownership
Another important factor in health discovery much acknowledge is the changing legal and regulatory issues related to personal data privacy. The increasing awareness of how personal data is being used and abused is causing a societal backlash. Legislation is quickly putting a stop to many of these abuses, such as the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) in Europe and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). Corporate brands are getting tarnished when privacy violations are publicized. These factors have to be taken into account when creatively designing a data and discovery ecosystem.
The LunaDNA business model and the HiSeq architecture did not arise simply by putting all this information into a bucket and magically coming up with a solution. The solutions arose because this information was understood by the founders. In the case of LunaDNA, the information formed the basis of many creative discussions around what a successful and disruptive solution to enabling unfettered access to health data might look like. In the end, one concept rose to the top: return ownership of the data back to the individual. The problem could not be solved with an institutional data ownership model. It was time to do what is right for people and respect a person’s right to data privacy, control, transparency, and attribution. We directly invite every person to join the journey, to collectively catalyze health discoveries.
So in 2017, we formed LunaPBC, a Public Benefit Corporation, and then founded LunaDNA.
Different than the institutional data silo model, LunaDNA forms a data-sharing relationship directly with individuals and communities, is interoperable across communities, delivers value to participants, and operates under the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission oversight (covered in Nature Biotech) and in compliance with modern international consumer privacy laws.
Both in the example of the HiSeq $1000 genome sequencer and creation of community-owned LunaDNA, creativity arose as a result of a deep and comprehensive understanding of the respective ecosystems and free-flowing analysis and conversations focused on new approaches to success in each ecosystem.”
These approaches aligned with the mission, purpose, and strategic aims of the people and organizations involved.
I would like to thank all of my colleagues at Illumina and at LunaPBC for joining me on these journeys, and Fast Company for honoring me with Most Creative People in Business Award for 2020. It’s been a fun ride.
This news comes just months after LunaPBC was named to Fast Company’s annual list of the Most Innovative Companies for 2020 in the Social Good category. Bob is recognized for his incredible achievements and significant impact in health tech, architecting Illumina’s HiSeq sequencing program, starting in 2008, and co-founding LunaDNA in 2017, the world’s first member-owned data-sharing platform for health research.
This year’s winning group features individuals working in artificial intelligence, winemaking, cybersecurity, television, underwater museum design, and more. It includes leaders from Patagonia, Amazon, Kaiser Permanente, Citi, and Google; and it spans across the globe, from China to Peru to Jordan to Burlington, Vermont.
Bob Kain and His Creative Endeavors in Health Tech
Biotech executive, inventor, and entrepreneur, Bob is a renowned pioneer in genomics, dedicating most of his career building Illumina, Inc. pre-IPO from 30 employees with no revenue, to a burgeoning workforce of over 3,000 employees and $1.4B in revenue. In 2017, Bob came out of retirement following his 15-year career as the chief engineering officer at Illumina to co-found LunaPBC, the public benefit corporation behind LunaDNA. In between his career at Illumina and LunaPBC, Bob founded health and fitness business, Mesa Rim Climbing and Fitness Center, with multiple sites in San Diego, California, and Reno, Nevada.
“Innovation has always been hailed as a core value in business, and rightfully so. Every business leader will admit this powerful tool supports developing valuable technologies, designing disruptive products, and vastly improving the way products or services are delivered. But what seeds innovation? How might business leaders develop this skill to deliver truly impactful change? It starts with creativity,” Bob shares in his article, Creativity Seeds Innovation.
When applied appropriately, creativity is the secret sauce to improving organizational efficiency, decreasing costs, reducing risks, improving morale, and of course, seeding innovation. It is a crucial asset to an organization often left untapped. Fortunately, we all have the capacity to be creative in solving problems and carrying out work responsibilities.”
LunaDNA’s COVID-19 Study Program
As technology advances, so do creative health innovations, including the recent spike in biotechnology companies aiming to support biomedical research studies at scale. Amid the coronavirus pandemic, Bob believes there’s no better time to seed innovation than now. In March 2020, Bob helped launch LunaDNA’s COVID-19 Study, a program that offers people and communities the tools to share their lived experiences during this unique time, recognizing that each person, community, and geography is uniquely impacted and will likely experience different longterm health effects. LunaPBC is collaborating with various groups to support privacy-protected COVID-19 information sharing including Genetic Alliance and Disease InfoSearch, xCures, San Diego Blood Bank, and the Propionic Acidemia Foundation. Each study has a special focus, ranging from how the virus affects people with cancer, genetic disorders and co-morbidities, to capturing individual’s interest to join research studies.
LunaPBC focuses on supporting research to identify links between our biology and health, as well as surface other factors related to wellness, such as environmental and social influences. LunaDNA elevates people to partners in research with data privacy, control, and transparency, recognizing that the future of discovery requires big relationships over big data. Bob hopes that LunaDNA will bring data together at scale to fill the missing gaps in today’s databases.
We praise Bob for this incredible recognition and look forward to the additional creative innovations he’ll bring to health tech.
“I would like to thank all of my colleagues at Illumina and at LunaPBC for joining me on these journeys, and Fast Company for honoring me with 2020’s Most Creative People in Business Award. It’s been a fun ride.”
About LunaDNA and LunaPBC LunaDNA makes discovery representative of the real world and aligned with people’s true goals by giving all individuals a role in research from right where they are. LunaDNA is a digital data-sharing community owned by its members. By sharing health information, you directly power disease research. As a member, your data is confidential. You control the information you share — only one copy of your data exists and you always control its inclusion in LunaDNA. We make it simple for all credible researchers to pursue health and quality of life discovery. LunaDNA is managed by Public Benefit Corporation, LunaPBC, founded in 2017 and headquartered in San Diego, California. The LunaPBC team, investors, and advisors are renowned in the patient-advocacy, health, and science fields, including several former chief executives of Illumina, industry academics, and financial executives.
About Fast Company Fast Company is the only media brand fully dedicated to the vital intersection of business, innovation, and design, engaging the most influential leaders, companies and thinkers on the future of business. Since 2011, Fast Company has received some of the most prestigious editorial and design accolades, including the American Society of Magazine Editors (ASME) National Magazine Award for “Magazine Of The Year,” Adweek’s Hot List for “Hottest Business Publication,” and six gold medals and 10 silver medals from the Society of Publication Designers. The editor-in-chief is Stephanie Mehta and the publisher is Amanda Smith. Headquartered in New York City,Fast Companyis published by Mansueto Ventures LLC, along with our sister publication Inc., and can be found online at fastcompany.com.
For thousands of years, humans have evolved to survive and thrive in environments fraught with a multitude of different challenges, creating an environment of continuous stress.
From the hunting and gathering struggle for food on a daily basis, to a constant vigil required to protect ourselves from predators, such stressors have enabled humans to become skilled in survival and prepared to address challenges.
In the developed world today, however, food is no longer scarce and predators no longer require us to be alert and ready for flight or fight. We have broken free of the majority of these natural challenges in what is the blink of an eye on the evolutionary timescale. Consequently, the evolutionary rate of adoption is not able to keep up with the rapid change of human condition.
A New Hypothesis
I predict that if we don’t implement challenges in our life on a daily basis, and purposefully create healthy stress across all of our systems, then the results for most of us will be negative outcomes to our health and wellbeing in our later years.
What Are We Fighting For?
Muscular strength and physical endurance were once necessary for chasing down prey for food and for defense against physical threats. We taxed our bodies physically on a daily basis, though it was not called exercise. Today, lack of physical activity over our adult lives severely impacts our muscle health, flexibility, bone density, balance, and joint/ligament health. In combination with an abundance of high calorie foods, it also can lead to diabetes, obesity, and other chronic problems.
Our ancestors did not have the time or luxury to worry about or contemplate meaning and purpose in life. Every morning they arose to address the multitude of challenges thrown at them, in their efforts to survive. We no longer need to rise each morning and fight for survival, removing what was a key reason for being, our “raison d’etre”.
Can we survive today in a state where nothing drives us, inspires us, or challenges us?”
In the long term it’s impossible to emotionally thrive in this spiritual and intellectual vacuum unless we find our own raisons d’etre. At some point one might lose the desire to get up in the morning and face the day.
Not surprisingly, even our microbiomes evolved in support of our survival, in what were more challenging times. We developed a symbiotic balance with many important microbes within our microbiome communities. The balance may be at risk for many of us depending on our nutritional choices. For example, food once came from natural sources and we had daily exposure to a rich environment of diverse microbes. This provided access to a rich set of microbes to colonize different areas of our body. Healthy microbes helped us break down hard to digest foods such as fiber from plants and raw meat. These microbes became valuable partners in maintaining digestive and physical health. Some provided a first defense against disease and pathogens.
Today, we have the choice of eating processed foods that may contain no microbes, and that are simple to digest, such as simple sugar, processed grains, and processed meats. The lack of microbes impacts the diversity of our gut microbiome and possibly, more impactfully, may no longer be providing fuel for the the healthy fiber digesting microbes that also have antibiotic resistant properties.
Depleting these microbes leaves space for other microbes to colonize our gut. Microbes that thrive on processed food and sugar, microbes that may not be healthy or even pathogenic, impacting our microbiome balance. This imbalance may contribute to disorders such as leaky gut, SIBO, Crohn’s and Colitis, and simple food allergies.
The Gut Brain Connection
New research points to the effect of our microbiome on mental health, due to the gut brain connection, and effectiveness of cancer immunotherapy treatments. The science in this area is new. Due in large part to the low cost of acquiring genomic data, it is now possible to fund large scale discovery studies on the link between our health and our microbiome. Over time, the links between our microbiome and our health will become much clearer, as will the actions we can take. For now, it is clear that a link exists.
We are fortunate to live in a world where historic challenges no longer plague us. As change is outpacing evolution, it is incumbent on us to modify our lifestyle in order to thrive in this new world. Don’t shy away from challenges in life… embrace them. Don’t be tempted to always take the easy path whether it be sitting all day, eating fast food, or avoiding difficult intellectual and emotional situations. Lead a balanced life of activity, continuous learning, leisure time, and time with family and friends. Eat a balanced meal of fruits, vegetables, and unprocessed foods. And don’t shy away from life’s challenges, for they’re there to help us live long and prosper.
Bob Kain is the chief executive officer at LunaPBC™, a public benefit corporation that manages LunaDNA™, the first community-owned health and DNA data platform dedicated to advancing health research and accelerating medical breakthroughs.
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