The University of Decentralized Science


For those of us who don’t spend our days surrounded by test tubes and research papers, it can be easy to forget, or simply not realize, how medical treatments reach the end user (patients). Like most products, the journey drugs take to market is long, complicated, and opaque. 

The first stage in a treatment’s journey — drug development — begins in a research laboratory, under a microscope. There’s basic research and discovery, studying a disease and how it disrupts abnormal cells, followed by preclinical research (tests, safety assessment, efficacy, potential toxicity) and clinical trials. Once drugs get approved, they go into a monitoring phase, and then begin their journey toward patenting, marketing, and commercial sale. 

It’s not hard to realize how much can go wrong along the way. Most of the time, what can go wrong does: 90% of drugs that enter clinical trials never make it to market

So, where does the bottleneck occur? According to the National Library of Medicine, beyond the enormous cost and timeline of drug R&D (10-15 years with an average cost of over $1–2 billion for each new drug to be approved for clinical use), the historically high failure rate can be attributed to inadequate clinical efficacy, subpar drug properties, a lack of commercial interest, and poor strategic planning.

Even with a steady uptick in spending over the last three decades, the lifecycle of a drug from R&D to sale is murky, fragmented, and at the whims of TradSci’s red-taped gates and keepers. 

A streamlined, democratic, and vertically integrated approach has long been warranted—and it has found its fuel in decentralized science (DeSci) and bioDAOs. Where have we witnessed successful, paradigm-shifting motion courtesy of DeSci frameworks? Back where many life-saving drugs find their start: academia. 

A drug’s journey toward graduation 

In our 2023 primer on bioDAOs, we highlighted that the majority of approved medicine (around 60%) begin in university labs. The prevalence of grant-funding helps power research in this environment, which is a crucial first step for a drug’s path toward patent and IP filing, which are usually carried out by a university’s technology transfer office (TTO).

Universities then license IP to an existing pharma company or biotech startup, leading to additional studies, and if successful, venture capital and/or Big Pharma-funded private studies. Formal filling with the FDA then kicks off clinical development prior to full approval. 

The problem with TradSci

Throughout this process, therapeutic IP and its funding must travel a fragmented journey between government agencies, venture capitalists (VCs), and centralized pharmaceutical companies. While studies argue that drug discovery in academia offers the “the promise of new approaches and an alternative organizational culture for drug discovery,” others note a significant gap between drug discovery and development, especially in universities.

This breakdown can occur due to a “lack of synergy between academia and industry at multiple levels,” leading to collaborative hurdles and absence of consistent funding.   

The bioDAOs of decentralized science offer a more optimized and streamlined flywheel approach, whereas university members benefit from vertically integrated R&D and the necessary resources, community, and expertise to actually get a drug across the finish line and into the commercial sector. 

Examples of academic adoption: 

University of Copenhagen

One month after the launch of the first bioDAO in July of 2021 (VitaDAO), the first science was officially funded onchain via a partnership with the University of Copenhagen. Not only was this a groundbreaking achievement for reimagining R&D in the academic sector, but a debut of sorts for IP-NFTs, a technological innovation at the core of DeSci and bioDAOs. 

Initially proposed by Molecule (BIO’s umbrella entity), IP-NFTs help clear and connect the fragmented and opaque processes historically required to create legal agreements between two parties for (pre-patent) biopharma assets by digitizing intellectual property and bringing it onchain. This happens by leveraging blockchain technology to standardize the process of creating and transacting around the early-stage biopharma IP into a digitally-native, composable asset.   


Thumbnail for the first IP-NFT, representing a longevity research project from Morten Scheibye-Knudsen at The University of Copenhagen.

Pictured above, the first biopharma IP-NFT was successfully transferred in 2021 to VitaDAO, a bioDAO focused on funding and supporting early stage longevity research, to fund novel longevity therapeutics at the University of Copenhagen. The proposal set in motion plans to direct up to $500,000 in funding over a two-year period to the longevity-focused Scheibye-Knudsen lab.

In a period of two weeks, VitaDAO was able to approve direct funding to the University of Copenhagen’s research — onchain IP which the DAO members would all own a part of, and at an exponentially lower cost and faster timeline than traditional drug discovery.

Two weeks. Let that sink in. Even “priority review” for the FDA to review drug development applications is listed on its website as six months (down from 10 months under standard review). 

Newcastle University

Two years after VitaDAO’s launch of the first IP-NFT, the first IP token (IPT) was born out of Newcastle University. An evolution of the IP-NFT framework piloted at the University of Copenhagen, IPTs are ERC-20 tokens that enable fractional governance of IP-NFTs, enabling bioDAO to to steer the underlying IP, governance rights, economic rights, and licenses of an IP-NFT in the direction that will best serve their interests and the success of the scientific IP. 

According to the proposal, VitaDAO’s members saw tremendous value in the IP-NFT’s potential to direct additional funding toward the Viktor Korolchuk Lab and that it would increase the likelihood of the research resulting in an in-market longevity therapeutic. 

In a space deemed particularly high-risk for early-stage biotech research, IPTs help spread risk among many vs. few in VitaDAO’s community, ultimately lowering the potential for any one party to bear the brunt of potential project failure.

The fractionalized process distributed specific allocations of the IP-NFT between VitaDAO members, researchers, Newcastle University stakeholders, and a liquidity pool — all with respective percentages and vesting/cliff periods. 


Unlike the typically gatekept funding and ownership mechanics of traditional scientific IP, the entire tokenomic breakdown of the Newcastle University IP-NFT and IPT was and is transparent via onchain data. Beyond that, the option to back the IP was completely participatory and open to community members. 

In the years since Copenhagen and Newcastle, there have been several more examples of academic adoption in DeSci: 

  • University of Oslo, June, 2022: Akershus University Hospital’s Dr. Evandro Fang's lab became the third ever lab to fund research via Molecule’s IP-NFT framework, focusing on treating Alzheimer's and promoting healthy longevity.
  • Imperial College London, August, 2023: ValleyDAO committed £228,000 to Dr. Rodrigo Ledesma Amaro’s lab to help fund a new way to produce oils at industrial scale in exchange for a portion of the intellectual property produced, by minting their first IP-NFT
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), February 2024: Partnered with ValleyDAO on synthetic biology workshops

The next semester of onchain science is coming

While academia’s adoption of DeSci and bioDAO mechanics is still in its initial stages, like the acquisition of knowledge itself, it’s a long game, and we’re still early in its adoption.

What we’ve witnessed thus far on-chain and IRL via tangible results is a testament to how DeSci can accelerate scientific progress, resulting in the best science seeing the light of day faster and more efficiently.

Utilizing IP-NFTs, IPTs, and the bioDAO flywheel approach, treatments can finally be unshackled from the shadowy corners of traditional science and the hallowed halls of academia, reaching the people who need it most. In tandem, those historically excluded from a drug's journey from research to market can help shape its future and benefit from the work (and liquidity) they put in.

Keep up with all things BIO on X, Discord, and Farcaster.