Outpaced by Innovation: Canceling an XPRIZE

When we launch an XPRIZE, we do so with the understanding that it may not achieve its objectives -- either because we made the finish line too difficult, or sometimes because we did not make it hard enough.
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At XPRIZE, failure is not a bad thing; it is part of the process. We expect most of our competing teams to fail as they attempt to achieve audacious goals. And sometimes, if we are doing our job right, an XPRIZE will fail as well. When we launch an XPRIZE, we do so with the understanding that it may not achieve its objectives - either because we made the finish line too difficult, or sometimes because we did not make it hard enough.

Every XPRIZE is carefully designed to address a market failure and hopefully create a new industry to achieve breakthroughs and solutions once thought to be impossible. If we are only launching prizes we know will succeed, we are not taking enough risk to reach the goals we set for ourselves to ultimately benefit humanity.

Back in 2006, we announced the Archon Genomics XPRIZE presented by Express Scripts, which offered $10 million to the first team that could rapidly and accurately sequence 100 whole human genomes to a standard never before achieved at a cost of $10,000 or less per genome. 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. The decision to cancel the competition fortunately occurred prior to us entering into Master Team Agreements, providing us with the flexibility to return the $10 million prize purse to the Blussons.

We believe that the competition helped generate significant visibility of the need for rapid, low-cost medical grade genomes. Furthermore, we are proud of the important assets we created along the way that will establish a legacy befitting the competition and the generous support of our sponsors.

First, we collected blood samples and created cell-lines to preserve the DNA from more than 100 centenarians whose genomes will be sequenced and put into an open data forum; and second, through the generous support of the Templeton Foundation, we created a Validation Protocol, the industry's first analytical tool for assessing the overall quality of whole genome sequences. Both have tremendous potential to benefit the genomics community worldwide.

At XPRIZE, we are already using what we learned to continue creating competitions that drive innovation forward. To date, we have successfully awarded four XPRIZEs and have an additional three active competitions, with dozens more in development.

Many people deserve our thanks for helping us produce this competition. We are grateful for the support of our sponsors, Stewart and Marilyn Blusson and Express Scripts; all of our partners; our competition judges, ethical and scientific advisory boards and the XPRIZE board of directors and trustees.

We also thank the teams that registered, Ion Torrent and George Church and the Wyss Institute, and wish them luck in the future.

Special thanks are due to the centenarians who contributed DNA and to their families. We are whole-heartedly committed to finding a noble use of the important genomic data acquired as part of this competition and we believe that future generations will live fuller, healthier lives as a result.

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