Genomics X Prize sequencing competition cancelled

23 August 2013

The Genomics X Prize competition for rapid human genome sequencing technologies, which was to run next month, has been cancelled.
The international Archon Genomics X Prize, an award of $10 million, was first announced in 2006 (see previous news) as the award for the first team to develop a rapid sequencing technique that would allow them to sequence 100 full human genomes in ten days. This was subsequently updated in 2011 when it was announced that the 100 genomes would be those of centenarians and that the cost per genome would have to be under $10,000 (see previous news).
However, the X Prize Foundation has now announced that they have cancelled the competition, which had received only two entrants – the company Ion Torrent (see previous news) and a team from the Wyss Institute at Harvard University led by George Church.
The Foundation said that this decision wasbecause ‘genome sequencing technology is plummeting in cost and increasing in speed independent of our competition’, and that many companies are approaching the competition goals of sequencing whole human genomes for less than $5,000 each within a few days or less.
X Prize Foundation CEO Peter Diamandis added: “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”; the prize money will be returned to the Blussons. He also said that the competition had helped to highlight the need for rapid, low-cost medical grade genomes and had generated valuable assets – the centenarians’ DNA samples and a tool for assessing the quality of genome sequences.
Comment: It is true that the cost of genome sequencing has plummeted and the speed risen at incredible rates since the competition was first announced – although this plunge has begun to level off and there are doubts that the original Human Genome Project goal of whole genome sequences for under $1,000 each will be reached as easily as seemed likely until recently. It might, therefore, have made sense to modify the competition targets again in order to maintain the incentive for further developments – though it is true to say that the demand for the technology to meet new medical applications is now much stronger.
However, the decision is bad news for Ion Torrent and the Wyss Institute, who apparently come away with thanks and good wishes and (presumably) a refund of their $25,000 entrance fee, but without so much as a memory stick to help further their research. 

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