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First-ever auction of NFT based on Nobel Prize nets UC Berkeley $50,000

A group of 31 alumni made the winning bid for digital files documenting a breakthrough discovery at UC Berkeley: cancer immunotherapy

thumbnail of NFT
The NFT for Jim Allison's Nobel Prize-winning invention was minted on May 27 and will go up for auction next week on Foundation, an Ethereum platform. (UC Berkeley image by Maggie Valentine)
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The Fourth Pillar NFT for Jim Allison’s Nobel Prize-winning invention was auctioned on June 8 for 22 ETH, 85% of which will go to UC Berkeley to fund research and education. (UC Berkeley image by Maggie Valentine)

After last-minute bids that twice extended today’s auction on Foundation, the University of California, Berkeley’s NFT based on the Nobel Prize-winning research behind cancer immunotherapy finally went for about $54,360 — 22 ETH (Ether) — and netted the campus about $50,000.

The proceeds of the auction — UC Berkeley receives 85% of the final bid — will go toward education and research, with a focus on seed funding for early-stage research that could have a broad impact on society.

The winning bidder was a group of 31 UC Berkeley alumni who pooled their funds in a decentralized autonomous organization, or DAO, to bid on the NFT. The DAO was assembled several days ago by blockchain experts and alums Medha Kothari, Justine Humenansky, Ratan Kaliani and Ava Payman, and included many former members of the group Blockchain at Berkeley.

The NFT, or non-fungible token, was minted by UC Berkeley on May 27 to honor the breakthrough research of James Allison at UC Berkeley in the 1990s that established cancer immunotherapy as a fourth pillar of cancer treatment — an adjunct to radiation, chemotherapy and surgery — as well as to raise money for current research that could have a similar impact. This is the first university-issued NFT based on an invention.

UC Berkeley alumna Maggie Valentine led the creative design of The Fourth Pillar NFT, a digital collage of 10 pages of details about Allison’s research and correspondences with the university’s patent office in 1995 prior to UC Berkeley filing a patent. That patent was later sold by the university, providing funds that helped build new biology teaching labs, renovated the Cancer Research Laboratory and created space now used for work on CRISPR.

Immunotherapies based on Allison’s discovery are now being used to treat more than 15 types of cancer that were difficult or impossible to treat before and has saved thousands of lives. He shared the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the discovery.

“At the highest level, the role of science in society today is part of what is on auction here today. We wanted people to tap into the wonder of remarkable science, even if they didn’t bid on the NFT,” said Rich Lyons, UC Berkeley’s chief innovation and entrepreneurship officer. “An important benefit of this process is that we’ve now built an A+ team that will serve as capacity for future innovation at Berkeley, not just for the minting of other Nobel NFTs.”

UC Berkeley plans to also auction an NFT honoring another Nobel Prize-winning UC Berkeley invention, CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing.


UC Berkeley will auction NFTs of Nobel Prize-winning inventions to fund research