May 23, 2022 PAO-05-022-CL-07
By now, non-fungible tokens (NFTs) seem to be everywhere on the internet. They are ubiquitous throughout social media giants like LinkedIn and Twitter — Bored Ape Yacht Club (BAYC) images are taking over profile pics across platforms — and more dedicated spaces like digital marketplaces and trade forums. Nearly everybody now knows what they look like, but fewer know what they actually are — and more importantly, how to maximize their potential to build community and effect change in any industry.
While some NFT aficionados joke that their hobby is to buy and sell jpegs online, an NFT is technically not the image itself, but rather the receipt of its purchase. For the uninitiated, NFTs are electronic records that prove ownership. They are a specific use case of blockchain, a digital record-keeping system that is nearly impossible to tamper with or hack. As a nearly unassailable record of a purchase, an NFT can represent ownership of both digital images and items in the real world, such as the NFT of real-world artwork at a Christie’s auction that sold for $69 million and the NFT of a 410-pound gold cube that an artist displayed in New York’s Central Park at the beginning of February 2022.
There is certainly something about this novel, image-based implementation of blockchain technology that captures the public imagination — perhaps because its implementation is so visual and both familiar and mysterious. However, the true utility of NFTs comes from the ability to prove a unique identity. It is possible that, in the near future, blockchain-based technologies will be integrated into the daily life of the average citizen in myriad ways. For example, driver’s licenses and passports could exist as NFTs, accessible by smartphone, that live on the blockchain. Various companies are also using NFTs as marketing tools. Taco Bell, ASICS, and Charmin are the first companies in their respective industries to mint and sell digital artwork as NFTs, with all proceeds going to either company-run scholarship programs or charities (the Live Más Scholarship program, the ASICS Digital Goods Artist-in-Residence program, and the Direct Relief charity, respectively).
In contrast, Robert Mondavi Winery, in partnership with French luxury porcelain house Bernardaud, is using NFTs not just for marketing but for their logistical capability as a means of verifying the authenticity of a real-world object. Their jointly created limited series of wines in porcelain bottles comes with unique digital artwork, and both bottle and art are sold together as an NFT. In this case, blockchain technology is being used to verify the origin and authenticity of the bottle, acting as a security measure against counterfeit wines.
Amid these innovations, one biotechnology innovator is pioneering the use of NFTs within cell and gene therapy to pursue a different goal, one that is about community building and sharing ideas to accelerate manufacturing capabilities for advanced therapies.
In a campaign to foster community engagement in regenerative medicine and cell manufacturing, RoosterBio is launching a collection of 333 NFTs that will act as digital membership cards for RoosterBio’s new initiative Club RegenMedTM, a community that RoosterBio is building to further their mission of fueling development for scalable regenerative cures. Their club activities present both virtual and in-person opportunities to connect people in the regenerative medicine and advanced therapies space, the first NFT community to do so.
A core part of Club RegenMed’s virtual activities will be hosting virtual roundtables on essential topics in advanced therapy, including cell and exosome product characterization, manufacturing scale-up, QC release, and entrepreneurship. Rather than following the model of an exclusive club, Club RegenMed’s roundtables will be open to all who wish to attend. However, owning a membership token will allow greater engagement in the community, as members will have opportunities to drive discussion topics and identify subject matter experts to incorporate their input on relevant topics. RoosterBio is currently building out a LinkedIn group that is conducive to the conversations they want to have with the RegenMed community, not limited to members but open to all interested individuals.
While the majority of the club’s activities will take place digitally, its virtual activities are only the beginning. Club RegenMed’s in-person pursuits are another key aspect of their community-building activities. RoosterBio will hold Club RegenMed events at conferences like those sponsored by the International Society for Cell and Gene Therapy (ISCT), the International Society for Extracellular Vesicles (ISEV), and BioProcess International (BPI). NFT holders will be invited to happy hours with free food or drink and possibly local attractions with free or discounted entry. Additionally, RoosterBio will reward participation by issuing additional digital tokens that are event specific, which can be accumulated and utilized to allow access to future exclusive aspects of the club.
Spearheading RoosterBio’s NFT collection and Club RegenMed are RoosterBio’s founder and Chief Product Officer Jon Rowley, Ph.D., and Product Specialist Trey Picou, Ph.D. They bring to this project not only expertise in regenerative medicine but a clear passion for NFTs, Web3, and the crypto landscape. For example, while giants from McDonald’s to Balenciaga have used NFTs primarily as an opportunity for product promotion and additional revenue, Rowley and Picou are utilizing the technology not just for marketing but for its potential to foster a dedicated community and advance important industry conversations, an unusual perspective for companies outside of the NFT space. This view of NFTs more closely emulates how prominent NFT clubs like the BAYC use their tokens, while also reflecting the more speculative use of NFTs as IDs that we may see in the future.
Taking additional inspiration from how NFT clubs produce tokens, RoosterBio’s 333 NFT images are generative art designed by Kim Hastings, Digital Marketing Specialist at RoosterBio and a multitalented digital artist and designer. Each image is a one-of-a-kind, colorful variation on the RoosterBio logo. The images are variations on a theme, emphasizing both unique, playful individualism among group members and exclusivity that elevates the group from the rest. The Club RegenMed NFT collection lives on the Solana cryptocurrency blockchain and is a verified collection on the main marketplace for Solana NFTs, Magic Eden. Verification lets prospective NFT collectors know that the company or organization behind the NFT is legitimate, while the choice to use Solana emphasizes RoosterBio’s commitment to ensuring that their collection is eco-friendly, as Solana is leading the way in cleaner crypto solutions. Unlike first-generation blockchains like Bitcoin and Ethereum, which have a reputation for being energy-intensive, the Solana blockchain has a much smaller carbon footprint, and a transaction on Solana takes less energy than two Google searches.
Despite drawing inspiration from NFT clubs and the larger community-organizing principles of Web3 projects, one critical trait distinguishes Club RegenMed from the way that NFT clubs operate: its inclusivity. RoosterBio’s Club RegenMed blog post welcomes anyone — customers and admirers, but also competitors — to join. And while clubs like the BAYC thrive on an image of conspicuous consumption and exclusivity, with some of their NFTs selling for millions of dollars, perhaps the most unusual aspect of Club RegenMed NFT collection is that RoosterBio is not selling them at all — they are completely free for those who ask. As we will see, the ready availability of the NFTs, coupled with the use of LinkedIn as a primary promotional platform, has already had positive and surprising effects on the type of community that has emerged around Club RegenMed.
Speaking to Rowley, Picou, and Matt Drew, RoosterBio’s Vice President of Sales and Marketing, it becomes apparent that Club RegenMed is strategically situated at the intersection of technology, social media, and regenerative medicine. This has drawn a diverse and eclectic crowd of new members. In fact, of the people who have reached out to request NFTs so far, only 30% of the community are RoosterBio’s customers. So, who are the other early adopters?
“They like the concept of blockchain and NFTs, they’re interested in the use case, and they just want to follow along. It’s a free NFT, and they’re signing up,” Rowley explains. This diverse crowd of people include more conventional connections that people within RoosterBio have, but also include some big cell therapy and regenerative medicine influencers. Notably, Rowley reached out to Bruce Levine, an eminent inventor and professor in the field of cell and gene therapy. According to Rowley, Levine had been meaning to look into blockchain, and Rowley introduced him to the necessary tech and sent him an NFT, which he tweeted out to his followers. Similar interactions occurred with executive, policymaker, and influencer Lee Buckler, the CEO of RepliCel Life Sciences, as well as a few others.
Some early adopters are more out of left field. Notably, a San Diego–based filmmaker with a background in molecular biology reached out for a RoosterBio NFT, which was her introduction to the larger NFT space. Another less likely NFT recipient, an undergraduate student from New Jersey, discovered RoosterBio’s NFT collection and reached out simply because his first name is Rooster, and that was his gateway to discovering the community. Early adopters know that RoosterBio’s plan is to build a community around medicine and manufacturing, and they want to see where the project goes. Picou, who is providing the technological basis to get the project off the ground, adds that the people who reached out were genuinely excited to reserve an NFT from the collection. “It's such a wide range of people that are voluntarily coming forward to be a part of something,” he says.
A major element of this positive reception and enthusiastic base of early adopters seems to be the fact that the NFT is a membership token that is easy to obtain. Rowley observes that, in a digital landscape where audiences are tired of being marketed to, the use of NFTs has been fresh and attention-grabbing. “They’re essentially opting in to the community,” he remarked. Drew mentioned the oversaturation of the digital market and how NFTs have given Club RegenMed an edge. “People are bombarded with a million different ways to communicate and participate in today's landscape,” he said. “The level of digital outreach from every company to every single individual is borderline too much. Leveraging the novelty of an NFT and having something tangible that defines club membership really makes the difference here.”
Drew’s observations illustrate that the attention and hype that Club RegenMed has received has been the result of multiple factors synergistically working together: the fact that the team is leveraging NFTs to draw attention to the community and that they have made those NFTs free; the fact that they have chosen LinkedIn, the social media platform for professionals, as their primary platform for now; and the fact that at this intersection of technology, social media, and regenerative medicine, the club has a broader reach across a more diverse audience, one where influencers and CEOs, advanced therapies and crypto are not so far apart.
For now, Rowley and Picou want to keep the endeavor a manageable size. While they could mint 600 or 1,000 tokens and have already worked with Hastings to create designs for the second- and third-generation Club RegenMed NFT collections, the goal with the first collection of 333 NFTs is to gauge and build interest in the community on a smaller, preliminary scale. Through the process of raising awareness and interest in their NFTs, they hope to encourage people who have obtained one from the original set to want to collect more from future, as-yet unreleased collections, gaining benefits and perks. Other marketing use cases of NFT tech that they have considered is to launch a special NFT collection specifically intended for customers, allowing customers to accrue “reward points” that they can turn in for merch or gifts. They also recognize that some fall-off is expected at each step of the process — for example, it may be the case that half of the 333 currently available NFTs get into the world, and a fraction of those token holders become active participants in Club RegenMed activities. Even if this resolves into an engaged core of 40–60 people, Rowley believes that this would be a successful first step in building an engaged community.
Provided that the Club RegenMed community grows and that there is demand for more NFTs, RoosterBio’s next step will be to release additional collections. A second collection, currently planned for 999 NFTs, would be minted and digitally sent to all existing members — thus, early adopters would accumulate all sets and stand out from new members — and provide sufficient tokens to triple the community size. RoosterBio is willing to mint multiple rounds of collections depending on how large the community grows. Of the second- and third-generation NFT collections, Rowley indicated, “We would love to have a reason to launch. We already have designs for our second and third gen. If we can have a core community of people who are actually active, or if all of a sudden, we have a ton more people joining the LinkedIn group and they all want NFTs, that would be the trigger for the second NFT drop, which would be bigger and allow for more people to join.”
While Rowley’s and Picou’s involvement with NFTs began simply as a personal hobby, many in the regenerative medicine industry now regard them as leaders and experts of implementing the technology. Rowley recently got accepted to give a talk at NFT.NYC, a major NFT conference, about launching NFTs from within a non-crypto-native company and into a non-crypto-native industry. A local biotech blog reported on RoosterBio’s NFT collection and Club RegenMed in an article about the growing importance of the arts in the biotech and medical fields, covering the company as an innovator at the forefront of art and digital technology. People are looking up to the RoosterBio team as NFT experts on a more personal level as well — Rowley has gotten on the phone and jumped on video calls to teach people interested in RoosterBio’s NFTs how to get the necessary cryptocurrency wallet on their phones and receive the token, essentially onboarding several people into the blockchain technology world. The San Diego–based filmmaker mentioned earlier has decided to launch an NFT of her own and has been emailing Rowley and Picou for advice and tips. Additionally, by popular request, one of the technology roundtables will likely cover the overlap of NFTs and biotech.
However, in light of requests from community members for the RoosterBio team to further educate its audience about NFTs, Rowley emphasizes that the focus of Club RegenMed will primarily be product development and manufacturing in regenerative medicine. The majority of the roundtables will focus on industry topics like exosome manufacturing and quality control. While the team is positioned to be leaders in the NFT company space, their goal has always been fostering community to further the field of regenerative medicine. RoosterBio is committed to furthering the core mission of fueling rapid commercialization of scalable regenerative cures and leveraging their considerable expertise in the field.
Rowley and Picou demonstrate an awareness and savvy surrounding NFTs and blockchain, because they are not approaching the technology as corporate outsiders but rather as passionate fans of the technology who deeply believe in the potential of NFTs and want to incorporate it into RoosterBio’s vision of the future. As early adopters of NFTs in the biotech space, they have placed RoosterBio at the cutting edge of new technology implementation and have potentially opened up the possibility of future expansion into the world of decentralized online communities dedicated to biopharma research and the larger crypto space.
“We definitely believe that NFTs are the future,” Rowley stated. “No one knows exactly how they're going to have the biggest impact, but we're getting our feet wet with a simple use case that helps to further our mission, which is to fuel the rapid commercialization of scalable regenerative cures.” As to how this first experience with NFTs has given RoosterBio a future edge, potentially in arenas that do not yet exist, he speculated, “When a killer use case really does present itself, we will be a lot more ready for it than anybody else. We won’t make the rookie mistakes that other companies might, like making it a cash grab or not speaking to the community and having it be too company focused.” That last comment touches on a key aspect of the larger crypto and Web3 ethos, which is that value comes primarily from engaged users collaborating together.
True to the greater ethos of Web3 as a whole, Picou expressed that, if Club RegenMed expands into a standalone organization that has nothing to do with RoosterBio, that would be a massive success in its own way. To this, Rowley added, “We're trying to be on the cutting edge of the implementation as an early Web3 application of aggregating community. If it grows into its own thing where Club RegenMed is actually a standalone organization that has nothing to do with RoosterBio, that would be a rousing success in my mind.”
Danielle is a Scientific Editor at Pharma’s Almanac, responsible for generating and developing scientific original and client-owned content. She also serves as a Project Manager for Nice Insight’s promotional and multimedia initiatives, including Pharma’s Almanac TV and other upcoming ventures. Before joining Nice Insight, Danielle worked in digital marketing in the biotech industry. She holds a BS in biology from Brown University.