$10 Million Genomics X Prize Is Canceled

By  |  August 23, 2013, 2:54 PM

The X Prize Foundation has canceled its Archon genomics challenge, which would have awarded $10 million next month to the first team to generate medical grade sequences of 100 whole genomes for $1,000 or less per genome within 30 days. The bar for the prize, which was first announced in 2006 and set at $10,000 per genome at a lower accuracy level, had been raised due to industry advances in the years since.

But the foundation’s CEO Peter Diamandis announced yesterday that innovation has outpaced the goals of the contest, so he is shutting it down.

“After careful consideration, we decided that the competition was not incentivizing the technological changes that our prize chair, Dr. Craig Venter, our sponsors Stewart and Marilyn Blusson, and the XPRIZE board had intended. What we realized is that genome sequencing technology is plummeting in cost and increasing in speed independent of our competition. Today, companies can do this for less than $5,000 per genome, in a few days or less—and are moving quickly towards the goals we set for the prize. For this reason, we have decided to cancel an XPRIZE for the first time ever,” Diamandis wrote in the Huffington Post.

Only two entrants had stepped up to the challenge—Life Technologies’ Ion Torrent and Harvard’s Wyss Institute.

When contest rules were announced in 2011, Venter said in a statement that “the goal of this competition is to push the industry to develop more accurate, faster and more cost-effective sequencing technologies…. For genomics to truly impact health and diagnostic decisions for all of us, we need these technologies. We believe this competition will be the impetus to truly usher in the era of personalized medicine.”

Illustrating the pace of development in genomic technologies, George Church, leader of the Wyss Institute team, told Techonomy in a December 2012 interview that the technology he would use to compete had perhaps not even been invented yet. He said he intended to vie for the prize with whichever approach was the current state of the art by September 2013.

Diamandis said the $10 million would be returned to the prize sponsors and that “at X Prize, failure is not a bad thing; it is part of the process.”

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