Category: News


Student startup Atana seeks to boost scientific collaboration through…

Student startup Atana seeks to boost scientific collaboration through blockchain technology


Atana team
From left: Atana co-founder and CTO Kevin Joo, co-founder and CEO David Shi and COO Nam Nguyen pose for a photo.
If money is the ultimate motivator, why not use it to encourage people to be proactive about their health and contribute to biomedical research?
That’s the idea behind Atana, a startup led by co-founders and Johns Hopkins University seniors CEO David Shi, an economics major, and CTO Kevin Joo, a biomedical engineering and computer science major.
The company has developed a secure and scalable distributed ledger infrastructure to boost scientific collaboration. It permanently records transaction details and distributes them across sources to prevent malicious parties from acquiring protected information.
The team’s original idea focused on the creation of a new cryptocurrency used to pay patients for their health data, but it has since developed into something with the potential to be so much more, explained Joo.
Using the blockchain technology behind cryptocurrencies to create a health passport, patients will be able to securely own and ultimately sell their health data to researchers, decreasing the costs and time associated with collecting information for studies and allowing for diversity in research populations, Joo says.
“We wanted to use this technology as a way to advance the concept of data ownership, patient consent and privacy in health care and biomedical research,” Joo says.
Securing the data is critical to the success of their technology, says Joo. Researchers can upload credentials and documents through a distributed ledger, and once verified, they can recruit patients and access data through a search instead of waiting to access databases or electronic health records.
Meanwhile, patients get the ability to influence medical research while bettering their own health outcomes by linking up devices that track health habits like fitness trackers and smartwatches.
In November, Joo and Shi met Nam Nguyen during a late-night session at FastForward U East, an innovation hub that provides registered Johns Hopkins University students with 24/7 access to co-working space, meeting rooms and workstations. After bonding over discussions of emerging blockchain-based technologies, Nguyen joined the Atana team as COO.
Shortly after, the team started developing “a more cohesive business model,” says Joo.
“A lot of new blockchain-related companies rush to launch their token sale and figure the rest out later,” Joo says. “We’re being diligent about both. At the end of the day we also want to have an actual product with a business model that makes sense.”
Under this newer model, Atana is focusing on licensing their technology to pharmaceutical, biotechnology, medical technology and health care companies.
They have also established partnerships with health artificial intelligence companies, health systems, contract research organizations, DNA sequencing labs and pharmaceutical firms to test the technology’s potential through pilot studies—including working with partners to test whether cryptographic protocols can be used to search millions of protected patient data points during the patient recruitment process while maintaining patient privacy.
Atana also received financial support this year from the Ralph S. O’Connor Undergraduate Entrepreneurship Fund, which supports Johns Hopkins students aiming to solve challenges through entrepreneurship. Members of each year’s cohort receive up to $10,000 as a grant, mentorship from investors and serial entrepreneurs, and additional resources from FastForward U, a group within Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures that provides extracurricular training and resources to enable students curious about or committed to becoming an innovator or entrepreneur.
Joo said the company’s business model and specifics were flushed out through long nights and odd hours at FastForward U’s innovation hubs.
Looking ahead, Atana is working toward hiring employees on a salaried basis and readying to close a seed round within the next few weeks, gearing the company up for a token generation event in coming months, Joo says.
“When we started it was about blockchain’s potential, not what can it do right now,” says Joo. “We spent a lot of nights ironing things out into something we could really sell. I don’t think that without such a space provided to us that [Atana] would have been possible.”

Get more information about FastForward U here!

Corporate Collaborations

Johns Hopkins-IP Group Collaboration Funds Cancer Therapeutic Startup, Paves…

Johns Hopkins-IP Group Collaboration Funds Cancer Therapeutic Startup, Paves Way for Further IP Commercialization

Barbara Slusher, Ph.D., M.A.S., professor of neurology, psychiatry, neuroscience, medicine and oncology

The Johns Hopkins University announces that IP Group has funded the creation of Lorem Therapeutics as part of an ongoing collaboration between the university and the intellectual property commercialization company to explore, identify and commercialize technologies. Lorem will be focused on developing early-stage therapeutics, bridging the gap from drug discovery to investigative new drug (IND) status, specifically novel small molecule prodrugs for cancer indications.

“The relationship Johns Hopkins has forged with IP Group aims to facilitate one of our institution’s long-standing missions—to bring the benefits of discovery to the world,” says Christy Wyskiel, senior adviser to the president for enterprise development and the head of Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures, the university’s intellectual property administration center. “The support provided to early stage technologies through this model of venture creation has the potential to accelerate the transformation of promising research into impactful products and services.”

Lorem is led by Barbara Slusher, Ph.D., M.A.S., professor of neurology, psychiatry, neuroscience, medicine and oncology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, who has an extensive track record of bringing lead compounds from drug discovery through clinical development. Slusher directs Johns Hopkins Drug Discovery, the largest integrated drug discovery program at the university, with a veteran team of medicinal chemists, assay developers, pharmacologists, toxicologists and pharmacokinetic and drug metabolism experts. The team is engaged in identifying novel drug targets arising from the university’s research efforts and translating them into new drug therapies for clinical development.

“We are excited to announce the first investment from our collaboration with Johns Hopkins University,” says Michael Burychka, chief executive officer, IP Group North America. “IP Group is committed to supporting scientific discovery and is thrilled to work with Dr. Slusher. We look forward to building upon our relationship with Johns Hopkins and continuing to invest in novel science being developed at the university.”

Accompanying the initial funding, Lorem Therapeutics will receive support from FastForward, a coordinated suite of resources managed by Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures that provides more than 100 startups with access to affordable space, services and funding opportunities.

“I am delighted to have the support of IP Group, Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures and FastForward as we launch this exciting venture,” Slusher says. “IP Group’s commercial expertise and initial funding as well as FastForward’s ongoing support will play a critical role in helping us accelerate and enhance our drug discovery efforts around critical cancer indications.”


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