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In 2011, The $1M ALS Biomarker Prize was awarded to Dr. Seward Rutkove for his development of a technology called electrical impedance myography (EIM). This prize spurred a breakthrough that can accelerate the progress of drugs through the development pipeline, ensuring that potential therapies can benefit patients faster. The prize challenge was named a 2012 Laureate of the Annual Computerworld Honors Program.

The $1M ALS Biomarker Prize was launched in November of 2006 with the goal of accelerating the development of a biomarker—an inexpensive and easy-to-use tool that can accurately measure the progression of ALS in patients. In 2006, Avi and the founding members of Prize4Life organized a conference with some of the leading minds from the ALS research community and the biotechnology industry in order to determine what obstacles existed that prevented the bridging of the gap between ALS research and products that would benefit patients—the so-called 'valley of death.' One challenge identified was the need for an effective biomarker to in order to make ALS clinical trials cheaper, faster, and more appealing to investment from industry.

At the time, there were no precise measures of ALS disease progression that allowed for short term monitoring of the disease and the assessment of treatment efficacy. Even now in clinical trials, survival time is used as the primary measure of effectiveness. Other measures include surveys of a patient's ability to walk, talk, swallow, etc. These methods require clinical trials to enroll large numbers of patients over a long period of time, usually an average of well over a year. By identifying a more sensitive and less subjective measure of disease progression, the $1M ALS Biomarker Challenge aimed to cut the cost of clinical trials in half.

Dr. Seward Rutkove's biomarker, using a method called electrical impedance myography (EIM), sensitively measures the flow of a small electrical current through muscle tissue. The current travels differently through healthy and diseased tissue, and by comparing the size and speed of the electrical current, EIM can accurately measure the progression of the disease and drastically reduce the cost of clinical trials.

The development of Dr. Rutkove's biomarker is a validation of the prize model in the biomedical field and a significant leap forward in ALS research. But the impact of this challenge reached far beyond his breakthrough:

  • In 2007, Prize4Life awarded five 'thought' prizes to encourage promising biomarker concepts. Track 1 of the prize process generated novel approaches to a major challenge both in the ALS field and in research of other neuromuscular diseases. KineMed, a biotechnology company that received one of the 'thought' prizes, submitted a theoretical proposal for a biomarker that had potential utility in Parkinson's disease research—Prize4Life connected the company with the Michael J. Fox Foundation, and they are currently working together to develop the technology.
  • In April of 2009, Prize4Life awarded two 'progress' prizes for solutions that had made significant progress towards meeting the criteria outlined in the challenge. One was awarded to Dr. Harvey Arbesman, a dermatologist and 'thought' prize recipient. His skin-based biomarker employed a method used in the cosmetic industry. While Dr. Arbesman's biomarker did not fully meet our criteria, Prize4Life saw that it was incorporated into an observational research ALS trial, where it may be able to provide insight into the fundamental mysteries of the disease. The other 'progress' prize winner was Dr. Rutkove as he came closer and closer to achieving a breakthrough with his biomarker.
  • Over 1000 solvers from more than 20 countries competed in the various tracks of this challenge, with more than 2/3 of active solvers originating outside of the traditional ALS research field—an influx of new minds and new ideas into the fight against this terrible disease.
  • The $1M prize leveraged more than $4M in outside investment from teams and companies competing for the prize, increasing the pool of resources dedicated to ALS.

Prize4Life partnered with InnoCentive for The $1M ALS Biomarker Prize, which expanded our reach to new minds and solvers around the world. When we launched the challenge, we didn't expect some of the most exciting ideas to come from the fields of dermatology, chemistry, and plant biology but thanks to our partnership with InnoCentive our challenge reached minds new to both ALS and neuroscience.