XPRIZE Healthspan, $101 Million to Incentivize Rejuvenation in Old People

Prizes for success in research and development can work well, if coupled with suitable publicity and activism. Such efforts have a long history, going back to the well-documented longitude rewards offered by the British government in the 1700s. More recently, the original Ansari X Prize for suborbital flight was a very successful example of this sort of initiative, and was launched around the same time as the Methuselah Mouse Prize to spur greater efforts to extend life in animal models. The Palo Alto Longevity Prize followed later with similar goals. Unfortunately for the ability of longevity-focused prizes to generate ongoing publicity, it has turned out to be hard to beat the 60-70% extension of life of mice lacking functional growth hormone signaling. That was not anticipated.

XPRIZE is the foundation that emerged from the original Ansari X Prize, set up to run further incentive prizes for research and development. After a few years of recent interest in involving XPRIZE to in some way help to accelerate the ongoing development of means to treat aging, organizers have now found the sizable funding needed for such an effort, and launched the XPRIZE Healthspan initiative. Development of medical interventions and clinical trials to prove their efficacy are expensive propositions, and a prize to incentivize more activity in this arena must be correspondingly large - and so it is.

XPRIZE Launches Larges Competition in History - $101M XPRIZE Healthspan to Drive Healthier Aging for All

XPRIZE, the world's leader in designing and operating large-scale incentive competitions to solve humanity's grand challenges, today launches $101M XPRIZE Healthspan. This 7-year global competition is the largest competition in history and the largest XPRIZE to date, offering $111 million total between the prize purse and a bonus award. XPRIZE Healthspan will award $101 million in prize funding to the team who successfully develops a proactive, accessible therapeutic that restores muscle, cognition, and immune function by a minimum of 10 years, with a goal of 20 years, in persons aged 65-80 years, in one year or less. An additional $10M FSHD Bonus Prize will be awarded to a team that demonstrates the ability to restore lost muscular function due to Facioscapulohumeral Muscular Dystrophy (FSHD) in one year or less.

XPRIZE Healthspan is the first health-focused competition of its kind, incentivizing competing teams to develop a single or combination of therapeutic treatments that will restore muscle, brain, and immune function lost to age-related degradation by at least 10 years, with a goal of 20 years. The finalist teams competing for XPRIZE Healthspan will conduct 1-year clinical trials. These trials will include persons who are aged 65-80 years who are generally healthy and free of major chronic disease or disability but who are experiencing mild age-related declines in function. For example, slowing walk speed, ability to rise from a chair, or mild changes in memory or cognition. The specific criteria are based on data from multiple sources, and indicate higher risk for future mobility disability, Alzheimer's disease, and related dementias, and multiple age-related diseases such as cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Focusing on multiple measures of healthspan rather than the one absolute measure of life span, and focusing on people rather than mice, is a logical reaction to what has been learned in the past few decades about mouse aging and a greater appreciation of the differences in the response to interventions targeting metabolism in mice and humans. Short-lived species exhibit a much greater extension of life span from calorie restriction and loss of growth hormone signaling than is the case in long-lived species, but the short-term improvements in health and metabolism appear much the same.

By the way functions are commonly measured, it might be possible to hit the prize minimum threshold of a 10 year reversion of measures of aging in at least muscle function via resistance exercise. If one starts with sedentary older people, much more likely! This may be intentional, in the sense that trying to improve on the size of the benefits produced by exercise should be a focus for the research and development community, but many of the interventions currently under development do not outperform exercise, and nobody is really holding anyone's feet to the fire on that topic.

The XPRIZE site does not appear to yet include a description of the specific measures they wish to use to assess the quality of an intervention in each of muscle function, cognitive function, and immune function, but a variety of different measures exist, some standardized, some not. It is unclear as to whether the prize organizers will leave it to the teams to pick their own measures. There is certainly a lot of room to argue over which measures are most appropriate.