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”We need an ecosystem for startups in digital biology”

Chip implants have in a short time gone from a fun way to open the gym door to being able to measure vital parameters in real-time. Entrepreneur and biohacker Hannes Sapiens Sjöblad believes that we are facing a paradigm shift when it comes to accessing biometric data.

HANNES SAPIENS SJÖBLAD is primarily known for his involvement in the biohacking movement. A notable part of this has been the work with implants – rice grain-sized NFC (Near Field Communication) chips that are inserted into the skin between the thumb and forefinger. The areas of use have so far been exciting but limited. NFC technology has made it possible to open digital locks, show the ticket at the train, and upload some member cards. But now, it is time for the next generation of implants. Hannes runs the company Dsruptive Subdermals, which recently completed an extensive study of biometric implants in collaboration with researchers at Karolinska hospital.

– A chip that can capture data in the body is a real game-changer. The vision ahead is for users to be able to measure and share biometric data in real-time – but it will require that the data is available in all contexts. Therefore, the measuring tool must be integrated with the body.

Making way for AI care

With an automated flow of sharable data, digital and personalized care can be taken to the next level.

– When I talk to a doctor, I should be able to share statistics about my vital parameters. Eventually, artificial intelligence can analyze my data flow and make predictions, since the algorithm can proactively see the pattern. The system captures warning signals in good time and we can work preventively. By calibrating the implants to the individual user, they enable personalized care for real.

Hannes Sapiens Sjöblad believes that the tools we use for collecting personal biometric data today, such as bracelets and rings, will soon belong to a bygone era.

– You can compare it with aviation. The propeller plane was good – until the jet engine arrived. Wearables are clever and we have learned a lot from using them, but the user experience is too complicated for most people. We need to get rid of friction to measure and share data. If you instead have the sensor function inside the body you do not need to make an active decision tomeasure. But the reading itself can be a choice.

One issue with the tsunami of collected data is, of course, how the information is to be managed and stored in a way that is secure and privacy-proof. In the wake of this, a new industry is emerging around aggregated health data.

– We are seeing more and more examples of these types of services right now. They are often located in Switzerland, where they have the world’s strongest privacy laws. They are foundations or cooperatives, rather than traditional tech companies.
One example is, where users can collect all their health data from a variety of sources. It is also organized as a cooperative so that users of the service can vote and collectively decide on how the data should be used.

– It will be a distribution of data instead of capital. I think they have a very interesting model for the future since we have a hard time trusting the American or Chinese tech giants. Just as with money, it is about building trust and confidence.

Time to turn the system around

Hannes has on several occasions pointed at how the Covid-19 pandemic can accelerate the transition to a more preventive care system.

– I’m convinced of that. Distance consulting is now the norm, it’s a behavior that has changed very quickly. In addition, door-to-door testing systems can also grow in other types of diagnostics. If you are ill, the worst thing you can do is go out on the town and sit in a waiting room with other sick people. It is much smarter with home care, that the care staff comes to you when needed. We also see new types of health centers that are open on evenings and weekends. I think this is a paradigm shift that we have just seen the beginning of. But continuously collecting data is a prerequisite for many other solutions.

You are also an advocate of collecting more genetic data. How could that benefit the life science industry, as well as caregivers and patients?

– There are different reasons why people take genetic tests. Most often it is about curiosity, that they want to learn about their heritage and family ties. However, a few percent of the population carry genetic variations that correlate with certain serious diseases, so discovering these as early as possible can be downright life-saving.

But according to Hannes Sapiens Sjöblad, the biggest societal benefit of genetic testing in the future is pharmacogenomics – learning about genes and their effect on different drugs.

– Society has not caught up on this, but the knowledge is increasing. Everything from ordinary headache tablets to specific cancer medicines have different effects on different people, depending on their genome. We need to start matching prescription drugs with genes, and that practice should ideally be performed routinely in pharmacies.

As an example, he mentions Estonia, where the Estonian Genome Project has been running since the year 2000 and has mapped the genome of 10 percent of the population.

– We can and should do that here as well.

What would you like to see more of within the Swedish life science system?

– I think that Sweden should build an ecosystem for startups in digital biology. We need to look at biology as information technology. How can we take advantage of the skills that exist and build a powerful ecosystem? Today, there is extensive research in life science and some successful companies, but we need breadth and rapid innovation cycles, just as we have in gaming, fintech, and digital services. We have to get a thousand flowers to bloom, and for that to happen, we need the startup culture. We must dare to fail and test our way forward more quickly. We must create that cultural soil.

”We have to get a thousand flowers to bloom, and for that to happen, we need the startup culture.”