An advertisement on a Web3 publishing platform, Mirror, last year might have raised more than a few eyebrows. The ad, posted by biotech startup Minicircle, called for participants for a gene therapy trial to be conducted in Próspera, Honduras. The unusual part? Potential participants had to purchase an NFT to be part of the trial, and upon completion, they would be paid in cryptocurrency.
This unconventional approach is part of Minicircle’s broader strategy to bring biohacking into the mainstream. The company, which is registered in Delaware, aims to combine elements of traditional drug testing with the ethos of biohackers. The goal? To democratize access to gene therapies, and to discover the perfect nucleic cocktail to promote longevity.
Minicircle’s trials are taking place in Próspera, an experimental crypto city in Honduras. Próspera is essentially a micronation, carved out by international businesses under controversial legislation, and represents a radical experiment that allows a private company to take on the role of the state. The partnership with Minicircle is a key step towards Próspera’s goal of becoming a hub of medical innovation and medical tourism.
However, the start-up’s unconventional methods and aims have been met with skepticism and concern. Experts in medical ethics are worried about how the trials will progress, and about their implications for the burgeoning and sometimes unscrupulous medical tourism industry. They warn that the lax regulatory environment in special economic zones like Próspera could pose significant risks to patients.
Minicircle’s connections to the biohacking movement run deep. The company’s founder, Mac Davis, previously worked at Ascendance Biomedical, known for its experiments with untested treatments. Davis has spoken about the potential of Minicircle’s key technology for delivering gene therapy into people’s cells, even going so far as to say that it could hold the “keys to immortality”.
The company’s initial gene therapy trial is being overseen by Glenn Terry, founder of the Global Alliance for Regenerative Medicine (GARM), a clinic specializing in regenerative medicine and stem-cell therapies in Roatán, Honduras. However, GARM has come under criticism for its marketing of unlicensed, unproven stem-cell interventions.
Próspera has positioned itself as a medical tourism destination, and Minicircle is seen as leading the way. However, the city is currently engaged in a legal standoff with the Honduran government over its existence, following the government’s decision to repeal the legislation that enabled its creation as a Zone for Employment and Economic Development (ZEDE).
Despite these challenges, Minicircle is pushing ahead with its trials, drawing criticism for its perceived arrogance. Some experts also worry that desperate patients may sign up for the trials, despite their shaky scientific grounding.
In the end, the success or failure of Minicircle’s trials could have far-reaching implications for the field of gene therapy, the medical tourism industry, and the future of Próspera as a medical innovation hub.