October 04, 2006
10 Million Dollar Archon X Prize For Genomics

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.

The X Prize Foundation has not yet worked out how exact criteria for what constitutes success in doing DNA.

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


Comments
StemCellBlogger said at March 11, 2010 9:24 PM:

Their intentions are good but you miss the point. Adult or repair stem cells can create new tissue or bring necrotic tissue back to life...all within the body of the patient. There is no need for invasive surgical transplants of a laboratory grown organ.

For example, the heart...allow me to give you the briefest history of adult stem cell cardiac history.

1998 – Dr Doris Taylor takes stem cells from the thigh of a rabbit, injects them into scar tissue in the animal’s heart and repairs the damaged muscle. The research was published in Nature Medicine.

1998-1999 – French researchers transplanted muscle cells into a human heart.

2000 – Human studies and trials using adult stem cells to regrow muscle tissue, including cardiac muscle tissue, are performed in many countries around the world.

2002 – Dr Taylor herself witnessed in Rotterdam the first patient in the world to get stem cells injected through a catheter into the wall of the heart. Encouraging results began to come in—improved ejection fractions, reduced diameters, thicker muscle tissue.
AND NOW FOR THE REAL DEAL:

2004 – The first-ever commercial stem cell treatment center in the world starts adult stem cell treatment of hundreds of human patients. Results are amazing and include the regrowing of cardiac muscle tissue in patients, significant increases and sometimes a doubling of ejection fractions (the % volume of blood the heart can pump out per beat), etc! Stem cells are also recognized as “smart,” going to where they were needed most, creating micro-vessel bypasses around existing blockages areas, areas that previously were blocked and in areas where stents were implanted.

2005 – Advancements continue as Dr Taylor rinses rat hearts with detergent until the cells washed away and all that remained was a skeleton of tissue translucent as wax paper. She then injected the scaffold with fresh heart (stem) cells from newborn rats. Four days later, “We could see these little areas that were beginning to beat. By eight days, we could see the whole heart beating.” The experiment, reported in the journal Nature Medicine, marked the first time scientists had created a functioning heart in the lab from biological tissue.

2007 – In November 2007, James Eilert was treated via catheter using his own adult stem cells. In his own words:
In Jan 2006, when I was 34 years old I had a “widowmaker,”100 % blockage of the left ascending coronary artery. My ejection fraction (EF)was between 20 and 25 percent (55 is normal) and I was told that I had about 5 years left.
1 1/2 weeks after (treatment) I had an echo done and the completely dead apex was beating again – verrrrry weakly but it was moving.

6 months later- my sidewalls are now beating normally, my septum went from 100% damage to 30% damage. My Dr. says my heart is 50 percent more elastic than the year before adult stem cell therapy.

After 6 months – My total dead heart tissue is down to about 10 percent – and my EF is up to 50 percent!
James’ heart and health continues to improve and he pushes himself and his limits today, running regularly and biking 20 miles when he isn't working 7 days a week.

Summation:
James went from Class III congestive heart failure to Class I with an ejection fraction (EF) increase from ~20-25% to his current EF of 50%. His doctors have lifted all restrictions and limitations on his physical activities. Videos of his tests and results can be found on his facebook page.
James is only one of many adult stem cell treatment success stories.

2009 – Present day. There are currently dozens of stem cell treatment centers around the world (on at least 4 continents) who are using adult stem cells to treat cardiac disease in human patients and regrow both cardiac and skeletal muscle tissue and more. The Repair Stem Cell Institute tracks all of these treatment centers and ranks their quality and protocol effectiveness http://repairstemcells.org

To see undeniable scientific proof on the safety and efficacy of stem cells in treating heart disease: http://repairstemcells.org/Resources/Downloads.aspx

There are also over 400,000 scholarly papers on the use of adult stem cells to treat heart disease, many studies and a number of clinical trials.

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