During my first semester in business school, I was diagnosed with ALS, a rapidly progressing fatal illness for which there is no cure and no effective treatment. Most people with ALS can expect to live around three years -- about 1,000 days -- once they are diagnosed. Instead of being given a choice of treatment plans, patients are confronted with the short, fatally debilitating road that lies ahead and told to put their affairs in order. After hearing my grim prognosis, I determined I would make an impact during my 1,000 days: as an entrepreneur, I could help unlock the mystery of the disease. Specifically, I wanted to promise prize money -- cold hard cash -- to help attract greater attention to ALS and to bring new minds, new approaches, and new collaborations to the fight to develop treatments and a cure.
The nonprofit I founded with my fellow Harvard Business School colleagues, Prize4Life, has launched several prize-for-breakthrough challenges in order to incentivize and focus researchers on specific obstacles that once overcome, could open the door to the development of treatments and a cure. It's not just the world of science that will yield breakthroughs, however.
Recently, we launched a $25,000 prize for an algorithm -- one that finally cracks the code of how quickly ALS is likely to progress in patients. This is critical because 1) it will help researchers design faster clinical trials for drug treatments; and 2) it incentivizes collaboration between the biologists working tirelessly to understand the disease and the brain power of math whizzes and code jockeys who haven't had the data they need to focus their talents on ALS, thereby expanding the number of potential ALS breakthroughs -- all of this will be absolutely essential if we are to make any progress against this disease, which takes almost 150,000 lives every year.
By championing a prize-for-ALS-breakthrough approach, I hope to be out of business very soon. I believe that through prizes like these, we can infuse innovation into a sluggish drug development pipeline and a treatment can be found -- if not for me, then for the thousands of others affected by ALS.
My brain is trapped in a body that is rapidly deteriorating. I am watching the clock wind down, and I know how urgent the need is for new research to recover hope. We cannot lose faith in the power of numbers and must draw in minds from all areas of expertise in order to find a cure for ALS. Prize money speeds this process along. And with a 1,000 days-to-live prognosis, speed is critical.
ALS is a harsh reality for everyone it touches. But the battle against ALS is one worth fighting and my hope is that through Prize4Life, I can make an impact and enable others to make one too.
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