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Q&A: Genomics X Prize's Grant Campany on Validation Standards, Attracting New Teams


campany.jpgName: Grant Campany
Title: Senior director and prize lead, Archon Genomics X Prize, since April 2010
Experience and Education:
Founder and managing partner,
B LOGiQ Management Consultancy, 2003-2010
Vice president of business development, PPD Discovery, 2001-2003
Director of business development, Onyx Pharmaceuticals, 2000-2001
Associate director of business development, Cell Genesys, 1998-2000
Manager, strategic marketing & business development, Chiron, 1996-1998
Senior financial analyst, 3M Pharmaceuticals, 1992-1996
MBA, University of Minnesota, Curtis L. Carlson School of Management
BS in business, University of Minnesota, Curtis L. Carlson School of Management

This story was originally published May 20.

Earlier this month, the X Prize Foundation appointed Grant Campany as senior director for the Archon Genomics X Prize.

Launched in 2006 (IS 10/23/2006), the prize offers a $10 million cash award to the first team to sequence 100 human genomes in 10 days or less for a maximum of $1 million in total costs. The sequence must cover 98 percent of each genome with no more than one error per every 10,000 base pairs, and must contain all insertions and deletions, rearrangements, copy number polymorphisms, and complete genotyping, and be correctly oriented. So far, eight teams have enrolled, including Roche's 454 Life Sciences, but the prize has not yet attracted other high-profile developers of sequencing technology.

In Sequence spoke with Campany earlier this month about his new role, a validation protocol that X Prize organizers are currently developing, and when the first team might try to win the competition.

What attracted you to becoming senior director of the Archon Genomics X Prize?

Personally, I view the Archon Genomics X Prize as a really unique opportunity to help lead a global revolution toward more effective predictive and personalized medicine. The purpose of [the prize] is to help serve as a catalyst for the efficient development of technologies that will ultimately reduce the cost and increase the accuracy of whole-genome sequencing, which is a really significant barrier to widespread adoption, and, hopefully, the resulting medical breakthroughs. The ability to help lead an effort toward a more efficient technology platform that will open the doors to this type of medical revolution is a tremendous opportunity.

How are you going to validate and judge the 100 genomes sequenced by the competing teams?

What we are calling the AGXP validation protocol will describe the process and the methodology necessary for validating a team's attempt at sequencing the 100 genomes according to our definition of accuracy and completeness. This will involve a robust bioinformatics software that will be developed specifically for the AGXP, in collaboration with our colleagues at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications [at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign]. We are working with some of the most highly respected organizations in the world on this, like [the Coriell Institute for Medical Research], Ed Liu of the Human Genome Organization, Thom Dunning and Mike Welge at the NCSA, and Granger Sutton and Craig Venter at the J. Craig Venter Institute.

Our goal is to create a validation protocol, and our desire at the end of the day is to offer this protocol to the genomics industry as the new gold standard for measuring accuracy and completeness [of genomes]. … I think it's important that, ultimately, the industry embraces some acceptable standard … with respect to whole-genome sequencing.

We are in the final phases of developing a final draft of the written protocol for the validation methodology. From that document, the information will then be converted into technical specifications necessary for the development of the bioinformatics software.

What's your timeline for this project?

The anticipated start date is going to be sometime in June or July, with the expectation that the final phases of the project will be toward the latter part of 2010. We anticipate that we are going to hold a team summit in January of 2011, where the teams that are currently signed up for the competition would have an opportunity to discuss the validation protocol, as well as to get an understanding of the process for validation during the competition.

When we release our draft protocol to the public, we are looking for input from the community as a way to help strengthen our validation protocol, so it ultimately will be adopted.

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Is the National Center for Biotechnology Information involved in this?

I think they will be indirectly involved in terms of a review. We are hoping to get many different agencies and members involved in the open comment period for the validation protocol.

The prize seems to have so far attracted mostly fringe players, with the exception of 454 Life Sciences. How are you planning to get some of the more mainstream developers of sequencing technology on board?

We have had a lot of strong interest from a number of different companies. A few of these companies that have expressed interest are clearly waiting for the publication of our validation protocol. We believe that that's a necessary first step toward our outreach efforts to many of these companies, to first complete the draft and then actually invite them in to the review process, both as a mechanism for them to get exposure to the validation protocol, as well as for us to hear from them their perspectives and any issues that they might have. … Clearly, companies want to compete, but they first want to understand what the criteria for validation are going to be.

The lack of participation, to my mind, has three potential scenarios: that the potential teams are unaware of the AGXP; are aware but not interested in competing; [or] are aware, interested, and waiting to review the validation protocol like I just mentioned. What I'm trying to do is focus on the people who are unaware of the competition, and to be more proactive in reaching these groups of companies, as well as to engage companies that are aware but are waiting to see the protocols in the process.

My hope is that for the people who are not interested in competing, we will understand why.

The competition guidelines currently posted on your website are from 2006. Do they need updating?

The current guidelines that are posted on our website will undergo some minor revisions. But we don't anticipate that there are going to be any material changes since the principles that we used to draft them are still relevant. The updates will be posted, probably, within the next month or so.

What else are you planning in terms of marketing, education, and outreach programs?

A large part of the X Prize Foundation's mission is education and outreach. One of the key points of our mission at the Archon Genomics X Prize is to help increase the overall awareness and understanding of, in a macro-sense, science, and specifically, the whole-genome sequencing market and its potential benefits to society from a research perspective and medical breakthroughs, such as predictive medicine and personalized medicine.

Right now, we are looking for potential sponsors to help create some dynamic kind of learning experiences for children. As you may know, math and science scores in the United States over the years have really declined. What we are trying to do is to stimulate some interest in math and science through our prizes. One of the things that we are going to be doing this summer is working closely with the Boy Scouts of America at their National Jamboree in Washington, DC, in July. We are going to have a tent, and over the course of about a week, there are going to be about 40,000 boys going through these tents. Our goal is to expose every person we meet to the possibilities offered through science and technology, by showcasing some of our prizes, and get them engaged in what we do.

With respect to marketing, we are also going to be announcing in the next few months the rollout of a program that we are calling the "Genome 100," 100 people who will be the voice of genomics and personalized medicine to the general public. My goal is to engage people from around the world in the selection of who these people are. To give you an idea who they are likely to be, we have commitments from Sergey Brin, Richard Branson, Michael J. Fox, Larry King, Dean Kamen, Anousheh Ansari, and a few others. The goal here is to get people who are interesting to large groups of people around the world and allow them to help educate and reach out to people and engage them in the understanding of what medicine is going to become. [These individuals will have their genomes sequenced by the winning team].

As part of this process, we have to go through a lengthy informed consent process. That is a critical step to getting people involved in a research-oriented project. I would like to thank George Church and his Personal Genome Project for his collaboration and helping us achieve that informed consent.

How far are we from one of the participating teams making an attempt to win this competition?

We believe the earliest we are likely to see a team elect notification of an attempt to compete could be as early as July 2011.

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