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Prize4Life is a non-profit organization dedicated to the discovery of treatments and a cure for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's disease and motor neurone disease. The organization uses the inducement prize contest model. It was founded in 2007 by Avi Kremer, an Israeli student at Harvard Business School, who was diagnosed with ALS at the age of 29.
In the fall of 2004, 29-year-old Avichai “Avi” Kremer, a first-semester MBA student at Harvard Business School, was diagnosed with ALS. After learning there was no cure for the disease, Kremer and his friends set out to gain a better understanding of the ALS research landscape and to determine what they could do to help move the field forward more quickly.
In May 2006, Prize4Life, along with the Harvard NeuroDiscovery Center organized a conference with top academic ALS researchers and high-level executives from the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries. Participants were asked to consider the major obstacles currently preventing industry from focusing on translating the exciting ideas coming out of academia into the creation of new drugs for ALS. Conference attendees concluded that the greatest obstacle was the lack of three vital “missing pieces”:
- A biomarker (an inexpensive and simple way to measure disease progression in humans)
- A predictive mouse model
- An understanding of the underlying cause(s) and mechanism of the disease
Kremer and his friends decided to focus their attention on these missing pieces by following the example set by high-profile ventures such as the Ansari X Prize. They worked with scientists to develop highly specific criteria for a prize that would reward the discovery of a clinically relevant ALS biomarker. The prize was launched with the help of InnoCentive, a company that has created a Web-based community of “seekers” who pose difficult R&D questions and “solvers,” who come from all over the world and a wide variety of backgrounds to provide solutions to these problems. As Prize4Life has grown and matured, the organization continues to administer prizes while also working to provide other informational and infrastructural resources that the ALS research community needs and develop technological solutions. Current CEO is Shay Rishoni.
Prize4Life has launched two major inducement prize contests, with prizes of US$1 million each. The first, an award for the discovery of a biomarker that can reduce the time and cost of ALS clinical trials, was launched in November 2006 and remained open for five years. The second, the Avi Kremer ALS Treatment Prize launched in October 2008, is for the discovery of a therapy that can reliably extend life in the mouse model of ALS by 25%. The organization has awarded $175,000 in smaller prizes for theoretical solutions and progress in the early stages of the Biomarker Prize Challenge.
On February 3, 2011, Prize4Life announced the award of their first prize, the $1M ALS Biomarker Prize, to Dr. Seward Rutkove for his development of a tool to track the progression of the disease. .
ALS Biomarker Prize
The Biomarker Prize was Prize4Life’s first prize challenge, launched in November 2006. Currently, there is no uniformly reliable way of tracking disease progression. As such, clinical trials for ALS are long and expensive, often prohibitively so. Prize4Life sought to reduce the time and cost needed to conduct these clinical trials, thereby allowing for speedier testing of potential therapeutics and an accelerated push toward treatments and a cure for ALS. The first researcher to meet all of the specified criteria of the prize would win US$1 million.
In May 2007, with a $75,000 donation from the Kraft family, Prize4Life awarded five Thought Prizes of $15,000 each to five teams who proposed the best theoretical solutions for discovering a biomarker for ALS. After awarding these Thought Prizes, the organization focused on the second track of the ALS Biomarker Prize: a $1 million award for the actual discovery of an ALS biomarker.
Prize4Life announced the awarding of the Biomarker Prize to Dr. Seward Rutkove on February 3, 2011 for his development of a tool to track the progression of the disease. This biomarker has the potential to reduce the cost of Phase II clinical trials by more than 50% and remove one of the primary obstacles to industry investment in potential ALS therapies.
Prize4Life pioneered the application of the incentive prize model to the biomedical field. The first million-dollar prize was launched via InnoCentive in 2006. Five years later, the process has culminated in the identification of a biomarker, but the ripple effect of the challenge can be seen far beyond the work of Dr. Rutkove. The prize catalyzed radically new ideas from new thinkers—in 2007, as part of the first tier of the challenge, Prize4Life awarded five ‘thought’ prizes to encourage promising concepts. A plant biologist and a dermatologist who applied a method used in the cosmetic industry were among those attracted to propose novel approaches to a major challenge in the ALS field. Over 1000 solvers from more than 20 countries signed up on InnoCentive to compete in the second round of the challenge, which aimed to translate these new ideas into practical application.
Rutkove’s biomarker, using a method called electrical impedance myography (EIM), sensitively measures the flow of a small electric current through muscle tissue. The current travels differently through healthy and diseased tissue, and by comparing the size and speed of electric current, EIM can accurately measure the progression of the disease.
The promise of this biomarker has already garnered interest from the biotechnology community. Neuralstem, a biotherapeutics company, is already using EIM as a biomarker in an ALS clinical trial. Two additional biotechnology companies, Biogen Idec and Genzyme, are actively considering incorporating the biomarker into trials as well.
Collaboration with Alzforum
The organization has worked closely with the Alzheimer Research Forum (Alzforum), a web-based resource for Alzheimer's disease researchers, to build a similar tool for ALS researchers. The two groups Prize4Life and Alzforum have worked together to hire a science writer who covers the latest news in ALS research. Since the start of this collaboration, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of ALS-related stories on the Alzforum website. In April 2009, Prize4Life began work on www.ResearchALS.org, a web-based portal to allow easy access to all ALS-related resources currently available on the Alzforum.
In an effort to provide researchers with the information they need to compete, Prize4Life began a project to collect relevant biostatistical data from past ALS clinical trials and other sources and compile it in one database. Analyses of the large volumes of data contained in such a database may reveal valuable insights that have not yet been discovered.
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