VOA, Los Angeles,
The age of privately funded space flight began
five years ago, as enthusiasts competed for the $10 million X Prize. The winning
team was headed by Burt Rutan, an aerospace pioneer in California. Since then,
the foundation that sponsors the X Prize has offered other incentives for
technical innovation. The latest is the $10 million Healthcare X Prize.
Peter Diamandis, the man behind the X Prize, says
the idea is to harness the creativity of private entrepreneurs and leverage
resources through competition.
He says some of the biggest technical breakthroughs come from ordinary people,
not from so-called experts.
"I define experts many times as people who can tell you exactly how something
can't happen," said Peter Diamandis. "And when you're looking for a
breakthrough, sometimes you need to allow people from outside the field to come
In 1996, Diamandis challenged aerospace innovators to put a human into space in
a privately funded project. The Ansari X Prize was funded in part by the family
of Iranian American entrepreneur Anousheh Ansari. More than two dozen teams
together spent $100 million to compete for the $10 million purse. The successful
flights of SpaceShipOne, a craft designed and launched by a team headed by Burt
Rutan, led to a fledgling industry in private space flight, which is expected to
take tourists into space in a few years.
The accomplishment got the attention of other innovators in the high tech world
and Diamandis says the idea of the incentive prize expanded.
"It was so successful that afterwards, Larry Page, one of the cofounders of
Google, joined our board [of directors] and said: 'Let's take X Prize and make
it a world-class prize organization and create prizes in other key areas. Where
are there market failures? Where are things stuck that we need a prize to be
disruptive and reinvent something?,'" said Diamandis.
The X Prize Foundation has teamed up with private partners to finance
competitions in new areas. One aims for a breakthrough in human genetic
research. Another challenges teams to send a robotic rover to the moon. A third
seeks to develop a super fuel-efficient vehicle. The latest X Prize, unveiled
last month, is a $10 million challenge to design a community health care system.
The partner in the challenge is WellPoint, the largest U.S. health insurance
group. Samuel Nussbaum is WellPoint's Chief Medical Officer and Executive Vice
President. He says the winning entry should tackle traditional issues such as
preventing disease and encouraging healthy lifestyles. It should also integrate
new technologies, offering ways to coordinate medical care among physicians and
hospitals, in schools and in the workplace. The entries will be narrowed to five
finalists and each will be tested in a WellPoint service area in the United
States in a three-year community trial.
Dr. Nussbaum says that future medical care will be
individualized to match a patient's genetic profile. He adds that the prize
rules, which are now being finalized, must take account of the rapid progress
being made in medical and information technologies.
"It will likely not slow down, but accelerate," said Samuel Nussbaum. "So we
have to actually design the prize and design a model that can work today, that
can work five years from now and, most importantly, can work into the future as
medicine and science and engineering, biology and informatics all really merge
and give us a new infrastructure for care."
The Healthcare X Prize is open to private teams around the world. Peter
Diamandis says some may be based at universities or private companies. He says
they can forge partnerships with community organizations and health care
providers. After U.S trials, an independent panel of judges will determine the
winning plan, using such factors such as improved community health, reduction in
sick days, lower rates of hospitalization and affordability.