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$60M Challenge Seeks Biomarkers, Models to Counter Aging Stress

Older cyclist on a bicycle path

(Julita, Pixabay.

19 May 2023. A new challenge competition seeks biomarkers, models, and clinical tests of the factors behind responses to stress conditions in human aging that can stave off frailty or death. The Dynamic Resilience challenge, conducted by Wellcome Leap, has a total prize purse of $60 million, but also a short timetable with initial proposals due on 25 May 2023.

The competition, says Wellcome Leap, aims to build a better understanding of human biological resilience that enables some people to respond to medical stresses as they get older, such as serious diseases, falls, or surgery. This ability to bounce back from adverse events, says the organization, results from complex physiological processes and mechanisms that enable individuals to continue functioning and maintain a stable equilibrium in their lives.

Wellcome Leap cites data showing about half of adults over 65 experience at least two long-term health conditions, with that percentage rising to about 80 percent by the time they reach their 80s. Moreover, says the group, the ability to deal with these stresses diminishes as we get older, making older people more susceptible to serious illness or injury, a state in clinical terms called frailty. Other data cited by Wellcome Leap show about half of individuals age 65 or older becoming or already reaching a frail condition, resulting in less of people’s lifetimes spent in good health.

Clinical trials among at-risk populations

The challenge asks participants from labs worldwide in universities, research institutes, not-for-profit organizations, government agencies, and companies of all sizes to identify and integrate biomarkers or molecular indicators of resilience into mechanisms related to aging that promote or impair a return to equilibrium and functioning after a health stress event. Those biomarkers need to identify and predict a response to medical stress before the event with more than 85 percent true-positive sensitivity and 90 percent true-negative specificity.

The challenge also asks participants to validate their models or interventions in targeted clinical trials among at-risk populations, demonstrating at least those same sensitivity and specificity levels, as well as a 25 percent or greater reduction in patients progressing toward frailty. Winning entries will receive funding for work covering three years, with an option for a one-year extension. The organization says up to $60 million will be awarded, but there are no pre-set number of awards, and specific funding amounts will depend on the type and scope of work proposed.

Wellcome Leap has a short timetable for the competition. Initial abstract proposals from individuals or teams are due on Thursday 25 May. The organization will review the abstracts and provide feedback, including a recommendation to submit a full proposal by 9 June. Those full proposals of 25 pages are due by 10 July. Reviewers will then select those proposals for funding and alert the winning participants by 9 August. Full program details and instructions are on the Wellcome Leap web site.

Wellcome Leap is a not-for-profit organization in Los Angeles that sponsors high-impact health research seeking medical breakthroughs on an accelerated schedule, spun-off in 2018 from the Wellcome Trust research foundation in the U.K. The group says it’s modeled after Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency or Darpa that supports R&D breakthroughs for defense applications, often by bringing together stakeholders and providing financial incentives. Science & Enterprise has reported on several Wellcome Leap programs, most recently in March 2023 seeking applications of quantum computing in the life sciences.

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