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The Prize Model for Financing ALS Research A Guest Post on Deep Innovation by Shay Rishoni

Prize4Life is a nonprofit organization dedicated to accelerating the discovery of treatments and cures for ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) — a rare incurable condition that mainly affects motor neurons controlling voluntary muscle movements. It is a progressive disease with no cure, and no treatment was effective, to date, in halting the disease’s progression or reversing it. Our mission is to accelerate the discovery of treatments and a cure for ALS by using powerful incentives to attract new people and drive innovation.

Prize4Life chose an unusual path for accelerating the way to a cure for ALS: the Prize Model, which allows it to invest not in the problem but in the solution. With the help of scientific experts, we identify the next barrier on the path to a cure and we offer a large prize to anyone demonstrating results that lead the way to a breakthrough.

Prize4Life brings together academic research and the pharmaceutical industry worldwide in search of an effective treatment for ALS. We do this by rewarding results – results that ALS patients all over the world desperately need.
Why are prizes the best way to finance research?

  • Prizes attract attention to the most critical problems in ALS research and the drug development process, and help to overcome them.
  • Leverage of investment — the total expenditure on research by all competitors is significantly higher than the awarded prize, thereby indirectly increasing the amount of time and money globally devoted to ALS research by many-fold.
  • Prizes attract new minds and significant investments in favor of victory over ALS — the competition generates motivation to explore ALS and attracts researchers from different disciplines to apply their skills and expertise for ALS related problems.
  • Prizes are an innovative approach to funding research — the prize is awarded only after a breakthrough has been achieved. Thus, the focus of the investment is in the results. In other words, a donor can know with certainty that his money will finance success, a concrete and significant breakthrough.
  • When granting a research, one puts all of his eggs in a single basket — that, statistically, might the wrong one — and gets a single answer. Using the prize model, one gets many different answers for his money, thus accelerating research.

Another financial advantage concerns fundraising. It is one thing to ask money for research in general, and a very different thing to offer an ‘option’, meaning you only pay for success. By offering this option, Prize4life can raise a higher amount of “committed money”.

Prize4Life has chosen to focus our efforts on the gap between academic research and the industry in this revolutionary way. That gap, also known as the valley of death, is where the vast majority of ALS academic studies fail to yield a product that can benefit patients. This gap exists for many diseases, yet it is exceptionally wide for ALS because very basic drug development tools are still missing for ALS. Not enough is yet known about the mechanism(s) of the disease. Prize4Life hopes to use the incentivizing prize model, as well as other leveraging efforts, to help focus attention and resources on the research challenges that, once overcome, could open the door to extensive interest and investment from drug companies and have the greatest impact for ALS patients.

Prize4life is the only NGO in the world using this method, for which it has been awarded the Israeli Prime Minister’s Prize for Creativity and Innovation.

Shay Rishoni in a guest appearance at the EU Brain Course in Tel Aviv University (Photo: Dr. Vladi Dvoyris for the Coller Institute of Venture)

Shay Rishoni, a former pilot, intelligence colonel, sportsman, and businessman, was diagnosed with ALS in 2011, shortly after winning the bronze medal in the Israeli Ironman competition. Since then, he’s been an active supporter of funding ALS research. He is the founder and chairman of “Prize4Life”, formerly serving as its CEO, and a member of the advisory board of Answer ALS. In addition, he is a member of the FDA advisory committee on clinical trials and an active supporter of improving accessibility in Israel Defense Forces.

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