The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the American Society of Nephrology announced a $10 million prize this past week to accelerate the development of artificial kidneys toward human trials.
The Kidney Innovation Accelerator, or KidneyX, Artificial Kidney Prize is a multiphase competition, according to an HHS press release, with Phase 1 seeking solutions moving forward the functionality, effectiveness and/or reliability of artificial kidneys – whether they be wearable, implantable, bioengineered, developed as a xenotransplant or chimera organ, or created using a different approach.
“The KidneyX Artificial Kidney Prize aims to radically improve kidney care by bringing together innovators across expertise areas, including nephrology, bioengineering, materials science, regenerative medicine, and medical devices,” said HHS Secretary Alex Azar in a press statement.
WHY IT MATTERS
Thirteen people die each day waiting for a kidney transplant, according to the National Kidney Foundation, with Black people disproportionately likely to develop kidney failure. In the United States, more than 100,000 people are currently on the list to receive one, with a median waiting time of three and a half years.
But current treatment methods have not significantly changed in more than six decades, leaving the space wide open for innovation.
General areas of interest for proposed solutions include continuous blood filtration, continuous fluid and volume regulation assessment and automation, vascular access and drainage constructs, and diagnostic sensors for real-time monitoring, among others.
“KidneyX is growing an innovator community with the expertise and vision to create a paradigm shift in kidney care – the public-private partnership is on track to foster catalytic change to improve kidney health and, most importantly, achieve the outcomes important to patients, their caregivers, and those that love them,” said Dr. John Sedor, chair of the KidneyX Steering Committee, in a statement.
Submissions for Phase 1 of the Artificial Kidney Prize, which calls for prototype solutions with detailed development plans, are due on March 24 of next year. Phase 2 will be open to eligible Phase 1 entrants and new eligible entrants; it will focus on integration of prototype solutions into an artificial kidney or advancement of already integrated prototypes.
Up to $10 million in total prizes will be distributed.
THE LARGER TREND
The Artificial Kidney Prize represents the next step in addressing stagnant progress around kidney disease, as federal officials pointed out earlier this year.
“Dialysis was a miracle therapy for its time, but it hasn’t changed in 60 years,” said former HHS Chief Technology Officer Ed Simcox at the Startup Health Festival in January. Simcox departed the agency in February (and HHS has not had a CTO since).
“The technology is exactly the same. We’ve made the machines smaller, we’ve added filtration technology, but … why is it that we don’t hear more about kidney disease when it’s the ninth leading cause of death in the U.S.?” asked Simcox, who appeared onstage with Sara Holoubek. Holoubek’s Luminary Labs is working with HHS on kidney innovation.
Officials have also pointed out the significant cost to the government that kidney disease entails. In 1972, President Richard Nixon signed the End-Stage Renal Disease bill into law, obligating the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to pay for dialysis.
“Medicare spends more on kidney disease than the entire NASA budget or the entire Department of Commerce,” said former HHS CTO Bruce Greenstein in 2018.
ON THE RECORD
“The Artificial Kidney Prize is an outstanding step to provide novel life-saving treatments to those who would otherwise require dialysis or traditional transplantation,” said Assistant Secretary for Health Brett P. Giroir in a statement.
“And this prize is just the beginning of the bold plans we have to improve the lives of those with, or at risk for, chronic kidney disease,” Giroir added.