The X Prize Foundation has announced the largest medical prize in modern history with the goal to speed up the development of DNA sequencing technology.
Washington D.C. (October 4, 2006) — The X PRIZE Foundation announced today the $10 million Archon X PRIZE for Genomics — A multi-million dollar incentive to create technology that can successfully map 100 human genomes in 10 days. The prize is designed to usher in a new era of personalized preventative medicine and stimulate new avenues of research and development of medical sciences.
Lots of big names have lined up in support of this prize.
On hand to help the X PRIZE Foundation make this historic announcement were some of the industries top minds representing the full landscape of this exciting new foray into biotechnology. Speakers at the press conference included Dr. J. Craig Venter, Chairman and CEO of the J Craig Venter Institute, Dr. Francis Collins, Director of the National Human Genome Research Institute, Anousheh Ansari, First Female Private Space Explorer and Co-Founder & Chairman Prodea Systems, Inc., Sharon Terry, President and CEO of the Genetic Alliance, Billy Tauzin, President and CEO of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturing Association and Dr. Stewart Blusson, President of Archon Minerals. Archon Minerals is the title sponsor of the Archon X PRIZE for Genomics after a generous multi-million dollar donation by Dr. Blusson.
Some argue that cheap DNA sequencing will revolutionize medicine by making personalized treatments possible.
Rapid genome sequencing is widely regarded as the next great frontier for science and will eventually allow doctors to determine an individuals’ susceptibility to disease and even the genetic links to cancer. Mapping your genetic code is like taking an X-Ray allowing doctors to see inside your genetic past and eventually help determine your genetic future.
Only after we have access to affordable and fast genome sequencing will we be able to take advantage of the countless benefits. This technology helps us refine and perfect our knowledge and practice of preventive medical treatments and procedures. Preventing disease is the next best thing to curing disease.
The ability to compare the DNA sequences and medical histories of millions of people will lead to the identification of genetic variations that provide many different advantages. But I suspect the biggest benefit will come from identification of genetic variations that determine levels of intelligence and differences in personality.
The X Prize Foundation founder thinks the prize model will speed up medical advances.
"The X PRIZE Foundation has created a unique philanthropic prize model designed to stimulate research and accelerate development of radical breakthroughs that will benefit humanity," explains Dr. Peter H. Diamandis, Founder and Chairman of the X PRIZE Foundation. "The Archon X PRIZE for Genomics will revolutionize personalized medicine and custom medical treatment, forever changing the face of medical research and making genome sequencing affordable and available in every hospital and medical care facility in the world."
Personalized medicine will come in many forms. For example, some drugs are dangerous to a small fraction of the population and now are kept off the market because there's no way to identify who is at risk. If we all knew our DNA sequences then doctors could choose drugs that are compatible with our personal sequences and optimized for our sequences.
Preventive measures could be tailored to our indivdual risks too. If we each knew which genetic variations we have that increase or decrease our risks for various disease we could choose lifestyles that reduced some of our greatest risks. Though I have to say the potential to do this has been overstated. For some genetic risks there's not a diet or exercise program that is going to help.
Drugs tailored to our personal genetic sequences are still only going to be drugs. Risk profiles for diseases by themselves won't prevent the diseases. What we need are repair capabilities and for that we need stem cell therapies and gene therapies. Lots of DNA sequencing information will help in the development of stem cell and gene therapies. But the development of those therapies will depend more heavily on instrumentation advances in areas other than DNA sequencing.
Three teams have already signed up for the competition. VisiGen Biotechnologies, Inc. is based out of Houston, TX and is led by Susan Hardin Ph.D., 454 Life Sciences is a Connecticut based company headed up by Christopher McLeod and the third team, which is made up of the Westheimer Institute for Science and Technology, the Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution, and Firebird Biomolecular Sciences LLC. They make their home in Gainesville, FL and Steve Benner is the team leader. Many other companies have inquired and more teams are expected to register soon.
Highly visible competition is a good thing. Lots of teams will work harder not just for money but for fame too.
Is faster DNA sequencing technology the greatest tool we need to accelerate the rate of advance of biotechnology? I do not think so. What we really need are better tools for watching how genes control each other. Conceptually what we need is a genomic debugger that lets scientists watch how each step of genetic regulation takes place. Which gene activation leads to which other genes getting activated or deactivated and by what mechanisms?
We also need faster and cheaper ways to measure methylation patterns on DNA. Methyl groups (a carbon with 3 hydrogens attached to it) get placed on the DNA double helix backbone to control which genes get turned on. DNA methylation patterns are part of a larger category of information called epigenetic state. The epigenetic state of a cell determines whether it is a liver cell or kidney cell or embyronic stem cell or other cell type.
In order to develop stem cell therapies and to grow replacement organs and other body parts we need the ability to cheaply and rapidly read and manipulate epigenetic state. Prizes which reward the development of better tools for reading and setting epigenetic state would do more to accelerate biomedical progress than prizes for faster DNA sequencing. But DNA sequencing is easier to describe and has gotten far more publicity.
Some experts foresee a medical revolution if the cost of DNA sequencing could be brought down low enough that a person’s genome could be decoded as part of routine treatment. Several companies have developed novel methods of sequencing, with the eventual goal of decoding a human genome for as little as $10,000.
The X Prize Foundation has not yet determined a critical parameter of its prize, that of how complete the genomes need to be. The present “complete” human genome has many gaps and is only as complete as present technology can make it.
The prize needs criteria on how to check the error rate of sequencing and also what percentage of the genome has to be sequenced. Some parts of the genome are extremely hard to sequence and also have little value. So it does not make sense to require contestants to sequence those parts.
Thanks to Methuselah Mouse Prize co-founder David Gobel for the heads-up on this announcement.
|Share |||Randall Parker, 2006 October 04 09:16 PM Biotech Advance Rates|