In recent testimony before the House Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Technology, Sharon M. Moe, MD, FASN, President of the American Society of Nephrology (ASN), stated ASN’s case for establishing a prize competition to encourage development of innovative approaches to kidney care.

Dr. Moe, who is director of the nephrology division at Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis, spoke with Renal & Urology News about the importance of nephrology research, the need for innovation in the kidney space, and how a prize competition can facilitate the process.

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What was it like testifying before the house subcommittee?

Dr. Moe: It was exciting to represent patients with kidney disease and those who are dedicated to their care—nephrologists, nurses, and other health care providers. Importantly, the testimony raised awareness of kidney disease and the burden it places on the 20 million Americans with the disease and especially the nearly half a million individuals who rely on dialysis. We need more innovation in the way that we deliver dialysis.

Until now, dialysis innovations have focused on access to care—for example, building more units closer to the patient and the use of home modalities.

But what’s really needed is a revolutionary change in the way that we perform dialysis. It hasn’t appreciably changed since the 1970s and early 1980s. Testifying before the Congressional Subcommittee and raising awareness about this need was very important to the kidney community as a whole.

How would a prize competition spur research?

Dr. Moe: Unlike research grants, which fund projects from their initiation, prize competitions award money only when the goal is met.

This model has spurred dramatic innovations, such as new methods for cleaning up oil spills and the first space flights by a private company. Participants vying for the prize may not have experience in the competition’s field, but they are drawn to the challenge and bring with them their unique skills and new perspectives to solving the problem.

The excitement surrounding a prize and new ideas that come with it is needed in the nephrology world today. ASN has already been contacted by several government agencies that are interested in collaborating on a prize in kidney disease research. This opens up a whole new approach to advancing breakthroughs in kidney care.

Can you explain how a prize competition would work?

Dr. Moe: The first step in a prize competition is to establish how to measure success. What will the research investigate? What are we asking people to do? These metrics must be well defined and researched.

The next step is to raise funds for the prize. To incentivize the bold thinking needed to solve the problem, philanthropic donors will be key to making the prize worth the participant’s investment.

Finally, there must be an assurance that when the competition’s goal is met there are no roadblocks to reimbursement.

It should be noted that the federal government has always had the opportunity to use prizes for stimulating innovation.

However, the rules were somewhat vague and difficult to interpret. My testimony was before a hearing on the Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science, and Technology (FIRST) Act (HR 4186), which clarifies some of these rules. ASN’s goal is to bring together the multiple government agencies involved in the care of patients with kidney disease to develop the infrastructure and criteria necessary to make a prize a reality.