New Genomic X PRIZE goals/subjects accelerate the drive toward personalized medicine
Swift improvements to the accuracy, speed, and lower cost of rapid gene sequencing have caused the sponsors of the globally-known X PRIZE to revamp their offer of a $10 million award to a team that is first to achieve a defined milestone in whole human genome sequencing.
Pathologists and clinical laboratory managers will be interested to learn how, last month, the X PRIZE Foundation announced a number of major changes to the formerly-named Archon Genomics X PRIZE. Most significantly, competition sponsors changed the subject from 100 genomes from unspecified donors, to genomes from 100 healthy centenarians.
The newly-named Archon Genomics X PRIZE Presented by MEDCO (X PRIZE) competition is now seeking one hundred healthy centenarians to donate their genomes to advance medical science. Contest sponsors hope this new direction for the competition will speed up clinical application of the holy grail of DNA sequencing: uncovering the genetic secrets of good health.
“Because of the unprecedented success of the developers of sequencing technology, we are now able to make the competition more ambitious,” wrote Larry Kedes, M.D., Senior Advisor to the project, and Grant Campany, Senior Director of the Archon Genomics X PRIZE, in an article in Nature Genetics. (Dark Daily readers will recall our September e-briefing on the rapid acceleration of DNA sequencing as a result of new semiconductor technology.) The contestants will contribute to scientific knowledge and help prepare the groundwork for applied human medical genomics, the article stated. This will pave the way for personalized medicine and medical breakthroughs.
The X Prize competition challenges scientists and engineers to create more accurate, cheaper, and faster ways to sequence genomes. According to a recent X PRIZE press release, the $10 million purse will be awarded to the first team that builds a device and uses it:
- to sequence 100 healthy centenarian whole genomes within 30 days or less; with,
- an accuracy of no more than one error in every 1,000,000 base pairs sequenced;
- for $1,000 or less per genome.
Competitors will get the 100 genomes on January 3, 2013. The competition will end on February 3.
100 Over 100—The New “Supercontrols”
The decision to use centenarian genomes was not made lightly. There are sound fundamental principles as to why the resulting data could lead to important scientific discovery, stated Kedes and Campany.
For one, mounting evidence suggests centenarians may carry genetic variations that protect them from common ills. Discovery of such variants could lead to breakthroughs in the discovery of drug targets and disease and protective mechanisms.
“If you just grab anybody as a control, you don’t know if they will develop disease in the future,” stated Thomas Perls, M.D., M.P.H., Director of the New England Centenarian Study and Associate Professor of Medicine and Geriatrics at Boston University, on PBS Newshour. Perls, who has acted as a consultant for the X Prize, suggested that these centenarians could become valuable controls for sequencing done for various diseases in the future.
The Medco 100 Over 100 is the competition’s program designed to enroll 100 centenarians to provide the competition sample set, the Nature article stated. The sponsors intend to develop innovative campaigns to heighten public awareness and understanding of the future of medicine. Also, they will seek to entice the centenarian genome donors by characterizing them as pioneers and heroes.
“Such individuals who have evaded all of the common diseases associated with aging are effectively supercontrols,” stated a Nature editorial piece. “Their genomes deserve to be scrutinized in contrast to the genotypes of the many disease cohorts currently under investigation.”
Quest For “Wellness Genes”
“With the selection of centenarians as the genomic pioneers, this competition emphasizes the tremendous opportunity to discover ‘wellness’ genes and therefore learn how to prevent disease and live a long, healthy life,” stated Perls. “This…brings us one step closer to realizing the promise of truly personalized medicine.”
“The competition’s audacious target criteria for accuracy and completeness of sequencing will define for the first time a ‘medical grade’ genome,” X PRIZE sponsors stated in a recent press release.
“The outcome of such a large-scale approach will be close to the reality of ‘medical-grade’ genomes that could be used as models for clinical applications,” observed Kedes and Campany. The PBS Newhour piece explained a medical grade genome as a genome that doctors can use to develop personalized medical treatment for a patient.
Genomic science has come a long way since J. Craig Venter, Ph.D., launched the private project to map the human genome in 1998. And it has taken great leaps since the original announcement of the X PRIZE in 2006.
With the rapidly accelerating pace of sequencing technology as evidenced by the ramping up of the X PRIZE competition, unprepared clinical laboratory managers and pathologists risk ignoring these developments at their peril.
—Pamela Scherer McLeod