According to the sponsor of the awards, Kalypso, the “Spike Awards recognize the best use of social strategies, processes, and supporting technologies to improve innovation, product development, and product management…The Awards celebrate forward-thinking innovators that leverage Social Product Innovation across the product lifecycle, including open innovation, crowdsourcing, expert identification, collaboration platforms, social product development and sentiment analysis.”
Our customer, Prize4Life, is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization dedicated to accelerating the discovery of treatments and cures for ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. The organization was founded by Avi Kremer, a Harvard Business School student diagnosed with ALS at the age of twenty-nine. In 2006, Prize4Life partnered with InnoCentive to launch the $1 million ALS Biomarker Prize. This Grand Challenge focused on finding a biomarker to measure the progression of ALS in patients, thereby facilitating the cost effective development of treatments by pharmaceutical and biotech companies.
The multi-stage Grand Challenge was launched via InnoCentive.com in 2006 and made available to InnoCentive’s Global Solver Community (which today is a quarter-million strong and growing). In 2007, as part of the first two stages of the Challenge, Prize4Life awarded several ‘thought’ prizes to encourage promising concepts. Of particular note, a dermatologist with no prior ALS experience was recognized and rewarded for applying a skin-elasticity method used in the cosmetic industry. This is a prime example of the importance of diversity in solving problem (and in fact, two-thirds of the teams competing for the prize came from outside the traditional ALS field). In total, partial awards totaling $175,000 went to six groups. In 2009, the third stage of the $1 million Grand Challenge was posted to InnoCentive’s Global Solver Community. Two years later (early 2011), the full $1 million amount was awarded to Dr. Seward Rutkove, a neurologist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, for his biomarker discovery.
Dr. Rutkove developed a non-invasive test that measures the flow of a small electrical current through muscle tissue. Electrical current travels differently through healthy and diseased tissue, and by comparing the size and speed of the current, Dr. Rutkove’s method can accurately measure the progression of ALS. While the Grand Challenge process culminated in the identification of a biomarker, the five-year multi-stage Challenge process inspired many new ideas from new thinkers, some of whom had no prior ALS experience. These ideas may yield future promise both inside and outside the field of ALS. In fact, KineMed, a biotech company that was awarded one of the thought prizes, proposed a biomarker that has potential utility in Parkinson’s disease research. Prize4Life connected the company to the Michael J. Fox Foundation, and they are currently working together to develop the technology. In total, nearly 3,000 Solvers and over 100 solutions from dozens of countries were proposed over the course of the Prize4Life Grand Challenge.
“Participating in the challenge helped to refine my thinking,” said Dr. Rutkove. “It led me to apply my technology research specifically to ALS focusing on both the animal studies and device development. In our case, participation has effectively sped the development of a handheld device to sensitively measure disease progression.”
A wonderful story, and some well-deserved recognition for Prize4Life. Congratulations!
(If you’re interested in learning more about Grand Challenges, register to download our latest white paper, “Solving The World's Toughest Challenges in Grand Fashion.”)