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X Prize Foundation Shuts Down Genomics Competition

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The X Prize Foundation has decided to cancel the Archon Genomics X Prize, saying that the plummeting cost of sequencing a genome had rendered the competition moot.

In a post on The Huffington Post on Thursday, X Prize Foundation Chairman and CEO Peter Diamandis announced the decision to shut down the contest, saying that as sequencing can now be done at less than $5,000 per genome and completed in a few days or less, "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 X Prize board had intended.

"For this reason, we have decided to cancel an X Prize for the first time ever."

Stewart Blusson is the CEO and president of Archon Minerals.

The Genomics X Prize was announced in 2006 with the goal of sequencing 100 human genomes in 10 days for $1 million. In time, the target was altered to sequence 100 centenarians in order to create medical grade genomes with high accuracy. Teams had to do so within 30 days for $1,000 or less per person.

The prize for doing so was $10 million.

Recruitment for the contest began in November 2011, and in July 2012 Life Technologies became the contest's first entrant. George Church and his team at Harvard's Wyss Institute became the second entrant in October 2012, as In Sequence reported. When registration for the competition ended this past May, they were the only two contestants.

The Genomics X Prize was originally presented by Medco Health Solutions. Express Scripts acquired Medco in 2012 and took over responsibilities from that firm.

Diamandis said that despite the cancelation, the contest generated "significant visibility of the need for rapid, low-cost medical grade genomes," and added that it resulted in a number of important assets. Blood samples were collected and cell lines were created to preserve the DNA from the 100 centenarians whose genomes will be sequenced and stored in an open data forum.

Also, with support from the Templeton Foundation, a validation protocol was established, which Diamandis said is 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."

The $10 million prize money is being returned to the Blussons, he said.

In the meantime, Grant Campany, senior director of the prize left open the chances of another X Prize directed at a genomics-related competition.

"We are in discussions with our title sponsor regarding other possible prize sponsorship opportunities," he told GenomeWeb Daily News in an e-mail.