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Changpeng “CZ” Zhao’s tenure as the CEO of Binance may be over, but the exchange giant’s loss could be a boon for the decentralized science (DeSci) sector.
In a comment on X (formerly Twitter) on Tuesday, Nov. 28, the former Binance CEO revealed an interest in the rapidly developing sector.
Been reading about biotech, thinking about how to use crypto to accelerate research funding there.
— CZ BNB (@cz_binance) November 27, 2023
In November, Cointelegraph reported a United States Justice Department (DOJ) investigation into Binance concluded with a record $4.3 billion settlement by the exchange. As part of the deal, CZ is required to personally pay $50 million to U.S. authorities and step down from his leadership role at Binance.
The transition from head of the world’s largest crypto exchange to man of potentially infinite leisure is unlikely to sit well with the crypto billionaire. The 46-year-old businessman started working in his teen years and expressed no intention to retire before his run-in with the DOJ.
With abundant time and money, CZ’s options are manifold, but should the former Binance chief opt to jump into DeSci, he’ll be joining a dynamic sector encompassing decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs), biotech, financing, publishing, data storage, foundations and more.
It is also a sector that still has much opportunity. A spokesperson for OpSci, an autonomous research community, told Cointelegraph that DeSci is still in its early days and “finding its footing in the wider scientific community.”
The shape of medicine to come
DAOs are among the major trends fueling the growth of DeSci. Medicine’s next prospective innovation wave has 20 or more DAOs in operation, with more emerging.
One such DAO is VitaDAO, a decentralized collective working to advance longevity research and extend human lifespans. Cointelegraph spoke with VitaDAO awareness steward Alex Dobrin to learn more about the market and what makes longevity science an attractive field of study.
“DeSci offers a new way for people to participate in funding and supporting projects. Instead of relying on traditional methods like for-profit initial public offerings or charity models, DeSci creates a new model,” said Dobrin. “Anyone can contribute both skills and capital while receiving tokens in a more scalable, effective model aligned with humanity since it’s decentralized.”
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Dobrin believes that DeSci is particularly important in areas that are either dismissed or forgotten about by the incumbent players.
“The best example is aging research and longevity biotech,” argued Dobrin. “Crypto was also dismissed by the incumbents, but at least anyone could build something from their laptop. Imagine if it needed government grants and required credentials to access expensive equipment and billions of dollars over 10–15 years to deploy a product with the oversight of bureaucratic regulators.”
According to Dobrin, organizations such as VitaDAO can help biotech sciences escape what is known in the industry as “the valley of death.” This valley is said to exist in the gap between scientific discovery and the point at which a pharmaceutical company or venture capitalist is willing to invest.
As a new funding model, VitaDAO and others may bridge that gap, helping to bring novel ideas and innovations to market.
A broken system of misaligned incentives
If you ask DeSci’s proponents why we should decentralize science, they’ll point to the state of the current centralized medical profession — especially in pharmaceuticals.
Tyler Golato, co-founder of Molecule — a decentralized biotech firm inspired by the open science movement — told Cointelegraph that decentralized science can positively impact the medical and pharmaceutical industries.
“Biotech and drug development suffer from a problem of misaligned incentives: patients and researchers who drive most of the value creation are excluded from governance, ownership, upside and consumer choice,” said Golato.
“The majority of the best-selling drugs on the market originated in academic laboratories, but the researchers who invented them and the patients that take them are almost completely disintermediated from the process of their development.”
Gelato argued that better medical outcomes will follow when these incentives are realigned: “Companies favor healthcare economics that require a patient to take a drug every day for their entire life, and are often misaligned with good healthcare outcomes.”
“Decentralization changes this — patients, researchers, parents of children with rare diseases and enthusiasts can contribute funding, work and data to projects in a more open-source way, and be incentivized and rewarded with governance and ownership in projects. This allows for genuinely novel ways to collaborate and develop biotechnology that is fundamentally aligned with cures,” he said.
A grand vision for the future
One of the things that makes DeSci so powerful is its ability to incorporate people from various disciplines and backgrounds. The major contributors in the field often participate as a point of passion and belief.
AthenaDAO contributor Sara Peoples, who also works for the public relations firm YAP Global, is a prime example. Peoples’ career began in law before she transferred to marketing, but at AthenaDAO, she took her knowledge into the field of medicine, working to improve health outcomes for women suffering from female-specific illnesses.
Peoples told Cointelegraph, “There is such a genuine welcoming of anyone who brings a new skill-set to the community, whether their strengths lie within operations, tokenomics, communications and awareness, or the more traditional scientific research background.”
Each individual can help to serve DeSci in the way that best fits their abilities. The dream many within the sector hold is to make lasting changes for the better.
“With DeSci, there is potential to overhaul the traditional model of research and funding, and open these up to become not just more transparent but also more efficient. It could also incentivize research in areas which are chronically underfunded at present — from illnesses which are less common, to even areas which should rightfully be seen as mainstream, but haven’t been adequately funded.”
Peoples describes this move toward greater transparency and reduced gatekeeping as “a total paradigm shift.”
“Women’s health issues are completely underserved, shockingly poorly funded, and with a real poverty of information stemming from an unwillingness to fund the crucial research into women’s health conditions,” said Peoples.
What would CZ do?
If CZ does venture into the DeSci sector, there are plenty of things the former Binance man could conceivably do.
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Dobrin of VitaDAO sees the upside to CZ’s recent interest in the field.
“High-profile people like CZ getting interested in DeSci and longevity can draw attention and resources to the cause,” said Dobrin. “Diversity is good. It’s important to stay focused on the shared goal of advancing science and medicine through decentralization, ultimately benefiting humanity’s well-being.”
Peoples said that Zhao is not the only big hitter in crypto taking an interest in the field.
“CZ’s interest in biotech is just one example of prominent figures within crypto signaling their support for the nascent but exciting space of DeSci. We have already seen Vitalik Buterin and Brian Armstrong of Coinbase expressing their interest in the area.”