Genomics XPRIZE Becomes a Victim of Innovation

Genomics XPRIZE

Two weeks before the competition deadline the organizers of the Archon Genomics X-Prize announced its cancellation, citing that a competition wasn’t necessary to push innovation in the field of genetics or the money offered incentivizing enough. The Chief Executive Officer of X-Prize, Peter Diamandis told Huffington Post that affordable and faster genetic sequencing is being made possible by companies and entrepreneurs at a much faster rate than they had initially predicted when setting the challenge. Current technologies available in the market are inching towards the goals set by the challenge, such as Life Technologies’ (or Thermo Fisher Scientific’s) Ion Torrent which has made sub $5,000 sequencing of the entire human genome possible.

Motivation to these companies comes from the prospect of personalized medicine replacing the current one-drug-fits-all pharmaceutical market. Companies like Life Technologies, Oxford Nanopore and others are making considerable progress so much so that the pace of cost-per-bit of biologic information is coming down faster than Moore’s Law, the  observation that the number of transistors of integrated circuits doubles approximately every two years. In fact the bottleneck for genetic sequencing comes from the slow speed of fall in cost of storing and sorting these genetic sequences. Companies such as Illumina with their BeadChip technology are focusing on certain particular locations (1 million) on the human genome that control traits and diseases. BeadChip is currently being used by 23andme to provide advanced health condition and traits prediction to the general population for just $99.

The decision to cancel the Genomics XPRIZE set in 2006 was lead by Dr. Craig Venter, and by sponsors Marilyn and Stewart Blusson. Diamandis said that the competition achieved its goal of generating visibility for the need of low-cost and rapid genome sequencing and the $10 million prize purse for the competition will be returned to Blussons. Just two teams had registered to take part in the competition, Wyss Institute and Ion Torrent.

XPRIZE has two active challenges in its life sciences section, the Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE and the Nokia Sensing XCHALLENGE. Earlier, Life Technologies withdrew its challenge from Innocentive that called for increasing the accuracy of its Ion Torrent Personal Genome Machine TM. The reduction to practice challenge with a $1 million prize purse was withdrawn before it reached it deadline, without the company giving a reason.

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