Prize4Life Awards $1 Million Prize for Major Milestone in ALS Research

Cambridge, MA— February 7, 2011—In 2006, Prize4Life partnered with the open innovation platform InnoCentive to launch the $1M ALS Biomarker Prize with the goal of accelerating the development of a biomarker—an inexpensive and easy-to-use tool that can accurately measure the progression of ALS in patients. An effective biomarker will make clinical trials of ALS drugs cheaper, quicker, and more efficient. By overcoming a fundamental obstacle in drug development for ALS, the discovery of a biomarker clears the way forward for pharmaceutical and biotech companies to develop treatments for ALS. The awarding of the $1M ALS Biomarker Prize to Dr. Seward Rutkove for his identification of a biomarker marks a significant step forward in ALS research.

“We created this Challenge to spur the identification and adoption of a biomarker that would accelerate drug development,” said Dr. Melanie Leitner, Chief Scientific Officer at Prize4Life, “and Dr. Rutkove’s method goes above and beyond the criteria we laid out. This biomarker has the potential to reduce the cost of Phase II clinical trials by more than 50%, and by correlating closely with disease progression, to remove one of the primary obstacles to industry investment in potential ALS therapies.”

Prize4Life pioneered the application of the incentive prize model to the biomedical field. The first million-dollar prize was launched via InnoCentive in 2006. Five years later, the process has culminated in the identification of a biomarker, but the ripple effect of the Challenge can be seen far beyond the work of Dr. Rutkove. The prize catalyzed radically new ideas from new thinkers—in 2007, as part of the first tier of the Challenge, Prize4Life awarded five ‘thought’ prizes to encourage promising concepts. A plant biologist and a dermatologist who applied a method used in the cosmetic industry were among those attracted to propose novel approaches to a major Challenge in the ALS field. Over 1000 solvers from more than 20 countries signed up on InnoCentive to compete in the second round of the Challenge, which aimed to translate these new ideas into practical application.

“For InnoCentive, the Prize4Life Challenge has been our ‘walk on the moon,’” said Dwayne Spradlin, CEO of InnoCentive. “Together, InnoCentive and Prize4Life set a wildly ambitious goal, knowing that to reach it would be a monumental achievement. Now, after five years, we’ve achieved that goal. And we can say without question that harnessing bright and passionate minds from every discipline and every walk of life can indeed change the world in the most profound ways.”

Dr. Rutkove’s technology showed great promise throughout the competition, but Prize4Life’s Challenge helped focus, accelerate, and introduce his unique approach into the mainstream.

“My work received critical support from the National Institutes of Health, the ALS Association, the Spinal Muscular Atrophy Foundation, and the Center for Integration of Medicine and Innovative Technology,” said Dr. Rutkove, Chief of the Division of Neuromuscular Diseases in the Department of Neurology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. “But without Prize4Life, there’s a good chance that even four years after publishing our first paper on this technology, it would still be on the outside looking in.”

Dr. Seward Rutkove’s biomarker, using a method called electrical impedance myography (EIM), sensitively measures the flow of a small electrical current through muscle tissue. The current travels differently through healthy and diseased tissue, and by comparing the size and speed of electrical current, EIM can accurately measure the progression of the disease.

The promise of this biomarker has already garnered interest from the biotechnology community. Neuralstem, a biotherapeutics company, is already using EIM as a biomarker in an ALS clinical trial. Two additional biotechnology companies, Biogen Idec and Genzyme, are actively considering incorporating the biomarker into trials as well.


ALS is a progressive and fatal neurodegenerative disease, in which the nerve cells that control voluntary muscle movement gradually cease functioning, meaning that patients with ALS become paralyzed, though their minds remain intact. Most patients will die within 2-5 years. More than 600,000 people globally suffer from ALS. There is no cure or effective treatment.

Prize4Life is a nonprofit organization dedicated to accelerating the discovery of treatments and a cure for ALS by using powerful incentives to attract new people and drive innovation. Prize4Life was founded in 2006 by Avi Kremer, who was diagnosed with ALS at the age of 29 while attending Harvard Business School. The organization aims to use prizes to bring new minds and new money into the fight against ALS and focus efforts on specific outcomes that will bridge the gap between academic research and the development of treatments and a cure.

InnoCentive is the global leader in Challenge Driven Innovation that bridges the gap between great ideas and actual solutions to drive measurable results. Recognized as an open innovation and crowdsourcing pioneer, InnoCentive’s proven methodology, expanding global network of creative and passionate problem solvers, and cloud-based technology platform enable organizations to tap all potential sources of innovation to accelerate their pace of innovation and evolve into true Challenge Driven Enterprises.

For more information, contact:
Nate Hinchey
Communications and Marketing Manager, Prize4Life

[at] prize4life [dot] org