VitaDAO, a Novel Approach to Crowdfunding Life Science Research

How to crowdfund the development of products, with variants such as crowdfunding to purchase equity in a company rather than a product, is a solved problem. Enabled by the internet, crowdfunding clearly works well when those who provide the funds will obtain something of concrete value in the near term as a result, be it a product or equity. Unfortunately, the established approaches to crowdfunding, exemplified by platforms such as Kickstarter, fail to work at scale when the goal is to fund scientific research. People have tried, numerous times, to make a Kickstarter for scientific research, with Experiment being perhaps the best of the resulting failures. The fundamental issue is that without the quid pro quo of a product or equity, some concrete value obtained, the incentives and feedback loops that make Kickstarter and its ilk work are absent.

The only type of crowdfunding that works to fund scientific research is small in scale, a matter of enabling passionate special interest communities to fund favored projects in ways that are not appreciably different from pre-Internet non-profit pledge drives. I'd like to think that our own, still comparatively small longevity-focused community has proven to be fairly adept at this sort of thing, with groups such as enabling a number of crowdfunded projects to proceed over the years.

Still, much more is needed. Enter VitaDAO, which is structured in a way made possible by blockchain technology, and which probably could not have arisen absent the present fervor for blockchain implementations such as cryptocurrencies. The core ideas on how to make crowdfunding of research actually work, implemented by VitaDAO, could just as well be put into practice by an ordinary non-profit organization with centralized administrative software, absent a blockchain implementation, however. One could argue that the primary use for blockchains here was to enable VitaDAO to start out with a very large warchest of funds via a token launch, without the need to convince the traditional, highly skeptical sources of non-profit funding to back such a project. That is important!

The core ideas appear good, and VitaDAO does indeed have deep pockets with which to fund research. Stripped down, the concept is to build a self-sustaining long term research fund in which: (a) people buy into the organization, putting in funds to obtain voting rights on which research projects to fund; (b) deals are struck with universities and startups to provide funding for specific projects in exchange for a cut of later patents, royalties, equity, or similar flows of funds; (c) successfully commercialized research will lead to funds flowing back into VitaDAO for investment into research. There are numerous ways in which VitaDAO could perhaps help to make such commercialization easier in the future, such as by building a marketplace akin to, say, BioNeex or similar.

The additions to this core idea made possible by the use of blockchain technologies revolve around decentralization of governance, keeping track of ownership, and perhaps later allowing trading on interests in research programs. But the current administrators have structured the organization and its work, quite carefully, in order to avoid any appearance of conducting a stock offering or producing a trading platform. Regulatory compliance is very important in this part of the field. The core of it is the virtuous feedback loop of funds, governance, and income from successful commercialization - a slow loop, given the timelines for moving from research to clinical, but there nonetheless.

VitaDAO is focused on the longevity industry and aging research aimed at lengthening the healthy human life span, an endeavor with strong support in the broader cryptocurrency community, as illustrated by large donations to organizations such as the SENS Research Foundation in recent years. But there is no reason as to why this model couldn't work for any arbitrary field of research with a strongly interested community of laypeople cheering it on. Environmental science, for example, or many others.

VitaDAO is in its early stages, but they have passed the first few most difficult hurdles. Firstly, they have obtained significant funds to deploy to research programs via a token offering. Secondly they have structured the first deals with a university, laying the groundwork for future similar agreements. After that, the rest is largely a matter of attracting attention and keeping the wheels turning. Any researcher or entrepreneur who is looking for a $250,000 grant in exchange for a modest interest in later patents or royalties can step up today and pitch the VitaDAO community and leadership on their project. We live in interesting times!


VitaDAO is a new cooperative vehicle for community-governed and decentralized drug development. Our core mission is the acceleration of R&D in the longevity space and the extension of human life and healthspan. To achieve this, VitaDAO utilizes a combination of novel governance (distributed autonomous organizations - DAOs), digital assets (non-fungible tokens - NFTs), and financial market frameworks (automated market makers - AMMs).

Value creation in biopharma centers heavily around intellectual property assets and patents as core drivers for funding and innovation. Yet intellectual property ownership as a business model has barely evolved in the past century. Current biopharma business models carry severe limitations and R&D inefficiencies that cost those who should be the core stakeholders: patients and researchers.

We believe the future of biopharma is transparent, collaborative, and open source. VitaDAO is an open cooperative that anyone can join, with the goal to acquire, support and finance new therapeutics and research data in the longevity space. The VitaDAO collective will directly hold legal IP rights to these projects and may develop a growing portfolio of assets represented as NFTs. Members of the public can join VitaDAO and become owners of its IP by purchasing VITA tokens through contributing funds, work, or valuable research data or IP assets. Ownership and governance of VitaDAO requires VITA tokens. VITA tokens enable their holder to engage in decision-making and governance of VitaDAO's research, signal support for specific initiatives, and govern its data repositories and IP portfolio.

VitaDAO will acquire and commission research, as well as own, develop and monetize the resulting intellectual property assets. VitaDAOs portfolio consists of: 1) NFTs representing intellectual property, patents and licenses to therapeutic research projects; 2) Data assets generated by funding R&D around its research projects and NFTs. Vetted longevity research projects will request funds from VitaDAO, and members will vote to grant or raise those funds in exchange for ownership in the resulting IP. To fund more research and to provide long term funding for the DAO operations, there are several options to monetize owned data and IP. VitaDAO can enter co-development deals with private companies or other DAOs. in single or multi-license agreements, VitaDAO could license data and IP to 3rd parties, or could sell to the highest suitable bidder.


Did anyone who contributed to SENS in the HEX airdrop get any return? I hate to think I'm doing something wrong and there are newly minted HEX moguls when I received nothing. It was a scam, right? Why would more people participate in VitaDAO if HEX was nonsense?

Posted by: Morpheus at November 5th, 2021 9:11 PM

@Morpheus: That airdrop never promised any return and it has nothing to do with VitaDAO's model.

Posted by: Antonio at November 6th, 2021 6:48 AM

VitaDAO is a trailblazer. I'm excited for what they doing. I think your article hit on one point that needs improvement, which is the slow slow cycle between initial funding of an idea and any increase in capital from that funding that can then be re-invested in another project. VitaDAO raised $5.1 million dollars. If their funding deals average $250k, that gives them 20 bets to make. The long path to commercialization/monetization of any project is severely problematic. Combine that with the fact that there will be high failure rates of projects (as there always is in developing therapeutics or advancing drug candidates), and I think this points to limitations that can only be mitigated with extremely careful project selection up front and a decent amount of good luck. (And I wish them all the luck in the world on these fronts).

I think there is room to improve on this model and am working on a project that I hope will address some of these issues.

Posted by: Jakebm at November 7th, 2021 2:52 PM

I think one the best ways to do this is to get inspired by what Numerai is successfully doing in the financial market/hedge fund industry.

If anyone could replicate that in the bigger scheme of things with "scientists", biohackers, etc that would be an effective way to decentralize the IP and Pharma/Biotech normal cycle (which after all is entirely controlled by major VCs as well as Big Pharma)....

If Vitadao was able to create a reward system for contributors to join (rather than expect to attract the worlds leading researchers "by promoting open science principles"); there would be a higher chance that the submitted projects to be serious and of quality (which i believe is the key for the project to take off and produce real world results).

In anyway; I am investing as the initiative sounds great and a grain of hope that investment in the sector can be made differently and fairer!

Posted by: Mowallich at November 8th, 2021 2:26 AM

I wonder if a more simplistic model that took more advantage of human greed could be even more effective. Example: People crowdfund 200K for a new senolytic, in return they get a percentage of any patent rights or money that later result from the study (Or just create a life extension crypto currency that is used as a regular currency but kicks back a percentage to fund research projects).

Posted by: K at November 9th, 2021 12:59 PM
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