ALS group awards $1m. to key biomarker researcher

Prize4Life nonprofit organization announces prize to leading US scientist for his work constituting significant step in research.

Prize4Life, a nonprofit organization founded by an Israeli sufferer of ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) to promote research into the progressive and fatal neurological disease, announced over the weekend that it will award $1 million to a leading US scientist for his identification of a biomarker that would constitute a significant step in research and accelerate the development of treatment.
Dr. Seward Rutkove, chief of the division of neuromuscular diseases in the neurology department at at Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, will receive the prize for his development of a novel tool to track the progression of ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Prize4Life was founded in 2006 by Avi Kremer, an Israeli who was diagnosed with ALS at the age of 29 while attending Harvard Business School.
He returned to Israeli and joined the IsrALS, a foundation to increase awareness of the disease and promote research into it.
Prize4Life uses monetary prizes to bring new minds and new money into the fight against ALS and focus efforts on specific outcomes that would bridge the gap between academic research and the development of treatments and a cure. ALS is an “orphan disease,” affecting fewer than 200,000 Americans and some 5,000 Israelis.
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.
“We created this challenge to spur the identification and adoption of a biomarker that would accelerate drug development,” said Dr. Melanie Leitner, Prize4Life’s chief scientific officer.
“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 percent, and by correlating closely with disease progression, to remove one of the primary obstacles to industry investment in potential ALS therapies.”
“My work received critical support from the US National Institutes of Health, the ALS Association, the Spinal Muscular Atrophy Foundation and the Center for Integration of Medicine and Innovative Technology,” Rutkove said.
“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.”
His biomarker, using a method called electrical impedance myography (EIM), measures the flow of a small electrical current through muscle tissue that travels differently through healthy and diseased tissue; by comparing the size and speed of electrical current, EIM can accurately measure the progression of the disease.
The biomarker has already aroused much interest from the biotechnology community.
The Neuralstem biotherapeutics company is already using EIM as a biomarker in an ALS clinical trial, and two more, Biogen Idec and Genzyme, are actively considering incorporating the biomarker into their trials as well.