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X Prize, Medco Team on $10M Centenarian Sequencing Prize

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The X Prize Foundation today disclosed new details about its $10 million Archon Genomics prize, saying that Medco Health Solutions will be a sponsor for the genomics project and that the award will go to the first team to accurately sequence the whole genome of 100 subjects within 30 days for $1,000 or less per person.

The foundation also said at a press conference held at the New York Academy of Medicine today that the 100 subjects to be sequenced all will be centenarians, and that it wants the genomes to be sequenced at an error rate of no more than one per million base pairs.

The specific goals for winning the genomics race have changed somewhat since the Archon prize was originally announced in 2006; at the time the aim was to be the first group to sequence 100 human genomes in 10 days for $1 million.

The target now is to sequence the 100 centenarians to create medical grade genomes with high accuracy, and the X Prize Foundation said it lengthened the contest because some potential competitors felt that the time frame would have excluded them.

Potential contestants have a little over a year to prepare, as the head-to-head contest will begin on Jan. 3, 2013. If the field of contestants fails to produce an outright winner, lesser awards will be made for single achievements in the three categories of accuracy, completeness, and haplotype phasing.

The organizers over the past two years have worked with their collaborators to develop a way of judging the accuracy and completeness of the genome assembly the teams will submit. That method involves duplicating sequencing of random DNA segments using next-generation sequencing, verification of discrepancies by Sanger sequencing, using selective pairing, and extensive, duplicate genotyping.

"The goal of this competition is to push the industry to develop more accurate, faster and more cost-effective sequencing technologies," Craig Venter, a co-chair of the contest and founder and president of the J. Craig Venter Institute, said in a statement.

"While many new technologies have been developed over the last decade and many human genomes have been sequenced, there is still no technology that can produce a highly accurate, reproducible human genome usable for diagnostics and medical treatment. 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," Venter added.

"The results will likely be the most accurately and completely sequenced set of human genomes ever assembled, empowering scientists around the world to conduct powerful bioinformatics research that can help unlock the secrets of healthy aging," X Prize Foundation Vice Chairman and President Robert Weiss said.

When the competition is complete, the foundation plans to compile a public database of the DNA sequences and cell lines of the 100 participants, creating an open-access resource of human genomic data that could help researchers understand clues to health and longevity.

The foundation and Medco plan to develop campaigns to boost public awareness and understanding of the future of medicine and to "make heroes of" the 100 centenarians who will participate in the project, X Prize Foundation members Larry Kedes and Grant Company said in a commentary in the November issue of Nature Genetics.

Along with support from Medco, the project's other supporters include the J. Craig Venter Institute; Albert Einstein College of Medicine; The Gerontological Society of America; The Genetic Alliance; Coriell Institute for Medical Research; Boston University School of Medicine and Boston Medical Center's New England Centenarian Study; the US Food and Drug Administration; National Institute of Aging; National Human Genome Research Institute; Human Genome Organization; Personalized Medicine Coalition; and Nature Genetics.

The prize, which is underwritten by a grant from Stewart Blusson, president of Archon Minerals, and his wife Marilyn, has been renamed the Archon Genomics X PRIZE presented by Medco.

The X Prize is the latest effort focused on sequencing elderly subjects for genetic clues to longevity and wellness.

As reported yesterday by GenomeWeb Daily News, researchers from VU University Amsterdam, Life Technologies, Scripps Translational Science Institute, and elsewhere, used the SOLiD platform to sequence DNA from a 115-year-old woman who had remained healthy for most of her life. In addition, Complete Genomics earlier this month said that it in collaboration with Scripps Health it will sequence the genomes of 1,000 people who have lived lengthy lives in an effort to discover the genomic secrets of healthy elderly people.