Local News Matters weekly newsletter

Start your week with a little inspiration. Sign up for our informative, community-based newsletter, delivered on Mondays with news about the Bay Area.

Subscribe

* indicates required

Imagine placing an image of Nobel Prize-winning research on your wall. That’s what science enthusiasts could do with a digital image of documents that will be put up for auction as soon as Wednesday by the University of California at Berkeley.

The university will auction off an image showing the initial research findings of Jim Allison’s work on cancer immunotherapy at UC Berkeley.

Allison’s documents show what was “the very first step in the patenting process,” said Rich Lyons, UC Berkeley’s chief innovation and entrepreneurship officer.

The images were the world’s first glimpse of the pathbreaking research, Lyons said.

“There are people who recognize and care about symbols of great science, and even if they never intend to resell the NFT, they want to own it and they want resources to go back to Berkeley, where the basic research behind these Nobel Prizes came from, to support further research.”

Rich Lyons, UC Berkeley

The highest bidder will receive a nonfungible token, also known as an NFT, which represents ownership in a unique item, like research documents.

Lyons said the idea for selling the token for the research documents germinated two weeks ago. Recent UC Berkeley graduates were recruited to help with the process.

“Nobody’s done this,” Lyons said.

NFTs have been used to sell other things such as more traditional artwork as well as Edward Snowden’s fundraiser for Freedom of the Press Foundation.

To be auctioned off later is a token for Jennifer Doudna’s work on CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing. Doudna won the Nobel prize for her work and is a professor at UC Berkeley while Allison is now at the University of Texas’ MD Anderson Cancer Center.

Proceeds from the auctions will be used to fund more research at UC Berkeley. What’s more, the university will enhance its reputation, which may result in, among other things, greater philanthropic gifts to the university.

Biochemist Jennifer Anne Doudna is known for her pioneering work in CRISPR gene editing, for which she was awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry along with Emmanuelle Charpentier. James P. Allison is co-winner of the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his and Tasuku Honjo’s discovery of cancer therapy by inhibition of negative immune regulation. (Photos courtesy of Innovative Genomics Institute (left) and MD Anderson Cancer Center)

A gift that keeps on giving

Lyons said the enhancement to UC Berkeley’s reputation will likely be more lucrative.

Non-fungible tokens can be resold, providing more money for the university and for the auction site Foundation, which is helping to sell Allison’s work. In the initial sale of the work, UC Berkeley will obtain 85 percent of the proceeds and Foundation 15 percent.

“I’d be surprised if it went for less than $100,000,” Lyons said of Allison’s work. “I’d be surprised and happy if it went for more than $1 million.”

Non-fungible tokens can be resold because they are unique to the person who buys them. Of course, someone could take a photo of Allison’s or Doudna’s work and put the photo online. But the owner of the token has the right to tell the photographer to take the photo down.

Any future sale of the tokens and Berkeley will get 10 percent of the proceeds while Foundation will get 5 percent.

“This is the data that has got us excited,” begins Jim Allison’s note on a research page faxed to a colleague. It is among the digitized documents of Allison’s Nobel Prize-winning work that will be the subject of an auction starting this week. (Photo courtesy of the University of California at Berkeley)

“Someone might ask, ‘Why would I want a digital version of some internal university form?’ Lyons said in a statement. “Because it represents something magnificent.

“There are people who recognize and care about symbols of great science, and even if they never intend to resell the NFT, they want to own it and they want resources to go back to Berkeley, where the basic research behind these Nobel Prizes came from, to support further research.”

UC Berkeley will keep the patent for Doudna’s work. The patent has expired on Allison’s work.

Allison’s research documents were minted Thursday and part of the proceeds from the sale of the token will go toward offsetting the carbon used to create the energy to mint them.

Allison’s work has led to the treatment of 15 types of cancer using therapies based on his technique and spawned additional immunotherapies.

Allison has described immunotherapy as the fourth pillar of cancer treatments. The three other pillars are radiation, chemotherapy, and additional gene-targeting treatments.