As a part of my series about “The Future of Healthcare” I had the pleasure of interviewing Dennis Grishin. Dennis
is co-founder and Chief Scientific Officer of Nebula Genomics. He studied molecular medicine at the University of Freiburg and computer science at Harvard University. Dennis is currently a Boehringer Ingelheim Ph.D. Fellow in Genetics and Genomics at Harvard University. He was awarded the German National Academic Foundation Fellowship and named a Forbes 30 Under 30 in Healthcare.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
In 2015 I started my Ph.D. in genomics in the laboratory of Prof. George Church at Harvard Medical School. I began working on a new DNA sequencing method to determine regions of the human genome that have not been sequenced to date due to the limitations of our current technology. While working on this projected, I realized that already available, and affordable DNA sequencing technology remains severely underutilized because patients and consumers have not widely adopted personal genome sequencing. My co-founders and I started Nebula Genomics to enable affordable personal genome sequencing and give people control over personal genomic data.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
The most interesting moment in my carrier as an entrepreneur has been the day on which we announced Nebula Genomics. I think that, for several reasons, the timing was perfect for announcing a privacy-focused personal genomics service. Our work has immediately attracted much interest, and I became an entrepreneur overnight. It has been an incredible experience.
Can you tell us about your “Big Idea That Might Change The World”? How do you think this will change the world?
Our mission is to drive the adoption of personal genome sequencing and sharing of genomic data. The availability of large genomic datasets will have a huge impact on healthcare. It will enable researchers to understand why we get sick and how to create personalized treatments. Today, many people can already greatly benefit from sequencing their genomes. It enables one to understand disease risks and take preventive actions, avoid drugs that are likely to have side effects and reduce the risk of having children that are affected by severe genetic conditions. The benefits of personal genome sequencing are growing rapidly as researchers learn more about human genetics.
Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this idea that people should think more deeply about?
Genetic information can be misused to discriminate and stigmatize people. For example, a person may be denied insurance because of genetically determined risks. Discrimination in other areas such as employment, education, and housing is also conceivable. Genetics may also affect personal relationships as people who are a carrier for genetic diseases or have undesirable traits might encounter difficulties finding a partner. These risks deter many people from genetic testing. Nebula Genomics seeks to address this issue by offering a privacy-focused personal genomics service that relies on multiple cryptographic techniques to protect personal genomic data.
What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption?
Wide adoption of personal genome sequencing will occur when the benefits outweigh the costs and the perceived risks. The benefits of personal genome sequencing are rapidly growing thanks to research that advances our understanding of human genetics. Nebula Genomics is reducing the costs of personal genome sequencing and addressing privacy concerns. Our goal is to make personal genome sequencing free by shifting costs to pharma companies as well as secure by utilizing blockchain and privacy-preserving cryptographic techniques.
Based on the future trends in your industry, if you had a million dollars, what would you invest in?
Technologies and services that can accelerate drug development and reduce costs. For example, technologies that enable rational drug target discovery and drug design.
Which principles or philosophies have guided your life? Your career?
I have always tried to work on important, difficult problems. While this maximizes chances of having a significant impact it also leads to many failures. I found it easier to deal with this adopting a stoic life philosophy.
Can you share with our readers what you think are the most important “success habits” or “success mindsets”?
I think it’s important to be attentive to opportunities that might unexpectedly arise and be prepared to take them. Practically, this means to have broad interests, interact with people with people from different professional backgrounds and build a generalizable skillset that can be applied to different problems.
Some very well-known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say?
The age of personal genomics is here. It will transform our lives and create a new breed of billion-dollar companies. Nebula Genomics is well positioned to play a key role in this emerging space. We have a team that consists of Harvard- and Google-trained software developers, bioinformaticians and cryptographers. We also have a business model that addresses the challenges that our competitors are facing (e.g., data privacy).
Furthermore, we already raised a funding round from top investors, launched the first iteration of our platform, started generating revenues and are preparing to announce major partnerships. In summary, we have the right timing, a strong team, and an innovative business model. These factors combined have resulted in significant traction within a short timeframe.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
My Twitter handle is @DennisGrishin.
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.