Again, we are looking at a promising start-up, which uses blockchain technology to develop a platform in healthcare, called “Sunny Lake”, based in beautiful Paris. It is built with the Ethereum blockchain and aims to offer an exchange platform for different stakeholders in the healthcare system like patients, physicians, researchers or laboratories. Their goal is to provide a toolkit, data and experts in order to conduct health and life science studies, in an efficient and effective way. What the benefits for patients/users are and why Sunny Lake is not a typical start-up, Jean-Christophe Despres (President and Co-founder) shared with us in an interview.
By Tram Trinh and Sunjoy Mathieu
Jean-Christophe, you are a French globetrotter and serial entrepreneur in the marketing field. Why did you decide to enable clinical studies with an emerging technology like blockchain ? Can you tell us more about you?
Jean-Christophe Despres: My entrepreneurial journey started back in the mid 90’s working on online communities. I later created the first ethnic marketing agency in France where I had to deal with public health campaigns targeting migrants. Once again, I’ve used a community-based approach. Later on, I’ve participated in a think tank, Club Jade, which launched those amazing projects on Big Data and Cancer, and an open source portable echograph. They happened to start from my office at the time and I had many opportunities to see the power of their growing communities. Talking with patients especially experts dealing with chronic diseases convinced me that a health community using blockchain technology would address major challenges in health and life science studies such as transparency and data privacy.
What is your Sunny Lake product?
Sunny Lake is an e-health platform based on Ethereum blockchain on which patients, physicians, researchers and labs can collect, share data and therefore build and test future health and life science studies in an accelerated mode.
This platform should become the meeting place for sharing between patients, physicians, research and lab organizations where everyone can find at an affordable and controllable cost, the tools, the data, the experts and the communities necessary to finalize the first steps of such studies. Our initial version of the Sunny Lake has just been launched and now we are developing an enhanced version, expected to go live in June 2018.
You mentioned Etherum is underlying your blockchain. Why select this one, since there are several other existing blockchain technologies?
Ethereum was designed to enable users to build smart contracts. Those contracts are algorithms which enable stakeholders to exchange data or counterparts, commonly referred to as tokens, in a secured and simple way. As our ecosystem involves many interactions with different entities (pharmaceutical companies or public labs) or individuals (experts or patients), we think that Ethereum is a fundamental layer for future applications. In addition, as a platform, we wanted to work on a public blockchain.
We understand that the benefits for patients and for the medical is a trustworthy reliable and traceable universe of questionnaire protocols, data and consent that can accelerate medical research findings. Is our perception correct?
With blockchain, there’s already a feature which is not questioned much, it’s timestamping. Bitcoin is running for many years with not a single fraud or bug on that matter. We are therefore quite confident with our business proposal regarding informed consent for instance. But there is more to it which is as important maybe as the internet revolution: the tokenization of our economy. This simply means that everybody in a community should be entitled to be rewarded for their participation through a common process. For Sunny Lake that means that there will be strong incentives for sharing data. We expect to receive massive feedback from patients not only because they will be rewarded but most of all because they will be able to measure up their own impact on research.
How do you envision the speed to adoption as everybody relies on trust and for the time being your direct customer is a business organisation, that will then reach out to the end user patient/consumers?
Well, this is why we are not a startup like others, always rushing. We need to build our own circle of trust, explain the impact of technology on business and change habits, participate in creating new standards. As long as we are moving forward, implementing our technology step by step, it’s ok. We can perfectly understand that the industry is watching us with interest and doubts. Hopefully, there are some pioneers and we are glad to receive more and more trust. Meanwhile, patients are eager to see this new age coming. It going to take a couple of years but we think it will bea fundamental change.
It seems trust is a non-negotiable condition to impact a scaleable volume of questionnaires and consents not only in France but also globally?
The only issue is of a legal nature and it’s barely affecting us for what we are doing at the moment. For other matters, technology doesn’t care about borders. People suffering from rare diseases are already used to communicating with each other worldwide. What we want is us to have a greater voice and empowering them to initiate new research.
Jean-Christophe Despres, President & Co-Founder of Sunny Lake
What is the profile of companies using Sunny Lake? And why in your opinion do they trust you as all is based on Ethereum technology that other blockchain solutions could use?
Many pharmaceutical companies now understand they need a new deal with patients. It’s not always in their corporate culture and sometimes difficult in their highly regulated environment but they are eager to participate in trustworthy protocols. One of our client has challenged us because they didn’t want to have any record of patients public keys. It helped us a lot in designing the platform. If a company wants to use blockchain as a process, it doesn’t require Ethereum and we did that too. But most of them value this concept of community where a public blockchain makes full sense.
What are the concrete use cases you have been working on and was is the outlook for Sunny Lake?
Some real life science studies in Switzerland with the goal to create a tool for online consent, transparent, reliable and traceable. Every patient in the study could download on a third-party website the pair of encryption keys they would use for their consent. They are the only owners and holders of the keys. In order to have real consent, design of the protocol, training through simple videos were key to ensure complete understanding of the study purpose. The main investigator of the clinical study and himself could only receive the consent form to sign himself through e-mail and get the signature notarized by the blockchain. A first of its kind in real-life conditions.
As next steps, we will even receive more reliable data thanks to a methodology of registry based on transparency and unfalsifiable protocol, hence a stronger engagement from patients who can control their data and their traceability and enrollment probability.
Also, we’re launching an Initial Coin Offering. It directly relates to what I’ve mentioned regarding the tokenization of economy. Concretely, issued tokens will not only be displayed only to Sunny Lake but also to strategic partners that will contribute to build an improved ecosystem of clinical research. Patients will benefit from it but it may also involve other start-ups as well as pharmaceutical companies.
In a nutshell, what’s your critical life mission?
Contrary to many projects, we are not a portal, nor a “DMP” (Patient Medical Record) but an actor and conductor of an ecosystem. Our mission is to contribute to the best flow of quality data serving the future medicine based on big data and artificial intelligence. We want to facilitate data interoperability by creating meta data standards and by systematically notarizing exchanged data on the blockchain.
Thank you, Jean-Christophe!
Learn more about Sunny Lake and their projects: