Monday, July 02, 2007

KEI on Prize4Life

The KEI Policy Blog posts on a medical science prize, Prize4Life, modeled after the X PRIZE, for solving problems related to ALS. According to the Boston Globe, they've raised $4.5 million. One way they attract donors is to promise to return the donor money if the prize isn't won. Their first large prize, the ALS/MND Biomarker Challenge, is for $1 million. It can be found at Innocentive. See more from Innocentive here.

The Boston Globe article notes that drug companies avoid ALS research because the risk is too high.

Find out more at the Prize4Life site. Some excerpts from the site:

"The Prize4Life concept is inspired by other prize awards for stimulating research, such as the X-Prize for commercial space travel and DNA-decoding, the U.S. government’s H-Prize for hydrogen renewable energy, and Eli Lilly’s venture, InnoCentive, which outsources difficult R&D problems to a distributed network of scientists using prizes."

"What will we offer prizes for?

1) Biomarker/diagnostic tool: a test or exam that will allow us to measure how good a potential ALS/MND treatment is much more precisely than just measuring patient survival.

2) High Throughput Screening for ALS/MND: a lab experiment that allows the fast and cheap testing of large numbers of chemical compounds for their potential as ALS/MND drugs.

3) New Treatment Therapies: new drugs that extend the life of ALS/MND patients by significantly compared to the current standard ALS/MND therapy."

Here's more from the Wired Blog, including some congratulations from the X PRIZE Foundation in the comments.

Here's an article from Yahoo! about Keith Powers from the X PRIZE Foundation moving to the Board of the Prize4Life Foundation.

From Boston Magazine comes an article on the Prize4Life organization and Avi Kremer, including several paragraphs that describe their discussions with the X PRIZE Foundation on making the Prize4Life an X PRIZE. Even if this alliance doesn't work (and it makes a lot of sense to me to consolidate some of the prizes that are out there under organizations that have track histories, experience, already-existing overhead costs that can be shared, and name recognition), hopefully the different non-profit prize organizations (in this particular case and others) can be mutually supportive in other ways (news, exhibits during events, etc). Anyway here's the excerpt:

"Finally, you have to wonder whether patients’ fear might lead them to make the wrong decisions in their research work. Prize4Life is a case in point: Kremer modeled his organization on the Ansari X Prize competition, which in 2004 granted a $10 million award to the team that realized the long-held goal of private space flight, and last month announced a similar bounty for developing a car that can get 100 miles per gallon. Kremer admired the prize’s ability to stimulate innovation—but pay only for results—in a field that had seemed stagnant; maybe, he thought, prizes could “revolutionize” ALS research in the same way.

So successfully did Prize4Life imitate the X Prize model that Kremer’s people eventually began to talk with its leaders last year about turning his organization into an X Prize for ALS. By joining forces, Prize4Life would have access to more money (the minimum award would be $10 million) and a bigger, better-established operation. Much like Warren Buffett’s giving $36 billion to the Gates Foundation, it appeared to be a natural fit.

The X Prize Foundation was receptive. But its representatives felt strongly that to capture the public’s interest, and that of the very best scientists, the prize had to be linked to breakthroughs in neurodegenerative diseases as a whole. Upon hearing their terms, Kremer declined. He was worried that Prize4Life’s funding and previous work might ultimately go toward research that had no benefit to ALS. Determined to maintain his foundation’s tight focus, he opted to go it alone.

If Prize4Life were subject to a Harvard Business School case study, many students would have urged Kremer to “find synergies” and merge with the X Prize Foundation. But when it’s your life hanging in the balance, your tolerance for risk is greater. After all, for Kremer, what’s there to lose? "