21 October 2008. The philanthropic organization Prize4Life today announced that it will award US$1 million to whoever manages to find a treatment candidate that “reliably and significantly increases the lifespan in mouse models of ALS,” according to the group’s press release. Called the “Avi Kremer ALS Treatment Prize,” the initiative serves the goal of accelerating the discovery of treatments and cures for ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. The prize is open to all researchers worldwide.
ALS is a neurodegenerative disease that is typically fatal within two to five years of diagnosis. Marked by the degeneration of motor neurons, ALS commonly strikes between the ages of 40 and 70, affecting men slightly more often than women. ALS is the most common motor neuron disease worldwide; as many as 30,000 Americans struggle with it at any given time. There is no known cure and only one FDA-approved treatment, riluzole.
“An effective treatment for ALS is desperately needed, and the existing mouse model is the primary gateway to clinical trials. The identification of a treatment capable of meeting the high survival bar set forward in this prize should attract the attention of those with the resources necessary to move a potentially effective ALS therapy into the clinic," said Tom Maniatis of Harvard University, who studies ALS and is a member of Prize4Life's Scientific Advisory Board. "The Kremer prize will only be awarded for a therapy that makes a major difference in the disease, the kinds of therapies that ALS patients really need."
By dangling this carrot in front of the scientific community’s nose, Prize4Life is hoping to increase the number of novel ALS treatments in the drug development pipeline. As a step toward that goal, the treatment prize will encourage the testing of a wide variety of potential therapies in ALS mouse models, a critical scientific and regulatory hurdle for the development of new drugs. In addition to posting this prize, Prize4Life has also pledged to spend up to $500,000 for independent validation of therapies that meet the bar set by the treatment prize. That bar is a 25 percent extension of lifespan shown in two different animal models of ALS.
Prize4Life is the first disease-oriented organization to apply the incentive prize model to neurodegenerative disease. The incentive prize itself is a historic tool. It has spurred the development of nautical navigation, and Charles Lindbergh’s nonstop 1927 flight between New York and Paris won him the Orteig incentive prize. More recently, the Ansari X Prize has stimulated the development of a private spaceflight industry, and competition for an X prize in personal genomics is still ongoing. Inducement prizes are different from conventional prizes in that they aim to galvanize future innovation rather than recognize past accomplishments. The incentive award is considered an innovative method to spark creative energies outside of the mainstream research funding channels. "There are challenges to this model, to be sure," noted Dr. Maniatis, "but if Prize4Life succeeds, the payoff could be huge. This effort could have major implications not just for ALS patients, but for any group looking to bring new ideas to the table for solving a biomedical problem."
Prize4Life’s first prize, a $1 million award for the discovery of a clinically relevant biomarker, has attracted more than 50 competing teams from around the world since its release in November 2006. This includes a number of researchers outside the field of ALS who have sought to apply novel solutions to the challenge. The deadline for submissions to this first prize challenge is 6 November 2008.
The ALS Treatment Prize will have a rolling deadline. If no winning solutions are submitted, the prize will be closed to further submissions in October 2010. Interested researchers can learn more about the prize and register to compete at http://www.prize4life.org.—Gabrielle Strobel, based on Prize4Life press release.