Astellas innovation contest's second year yields bumper crop of creative cancer solutions

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Astellas Oncology's C3 competition is in its second year.

The finalists are in for Astellas Oncology's changing cancer care contest. The second annual C3 prize winners range from an AI-powered companion robot to a healthcare professionals’ point-of-care app for facilitating diagnosis and treatment.

Five finalists will now compete for the grand prize of $50,000 and a personal business consultation with ABC-TV’s Shark Tank’s Robert Herjavec, although the reality star won’t be judging in person this year. The live pitch session showdown will take place on Nov. 13 at the World Cancer Leaders’ Summit in Mexico City, with the winner announced at the end of the forum. Each of the remaining four finalists will receive $12,500 in award money. Last year’s winner was a virtual reality anxiety management tool.

The way Astellas sees it, the entrants provide evidence that “there are certain pain points that maybe we’re not even familiar with," according to Mark Reisenauer, senior vice president of Astellas’ oncology business unit.

"They become evident in the types of ideas that come forward that this must be an issue because you’re seeing more ideas around it. And more ideas about how to solve for it. That’s all coming from a perspective that we as a company might not have gone down that path,” he said.

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This year’s contest had 160 submissions from around the world, up from around 100 last year. Contest hopefuls included healthcare professionals, tech companies and start-ups, and even patients themselves. And while some of the entries presented similar themes to last years’ crop, newer approaches to cancer care did emerge. Reisenauer said, for instance, that he noticed more analytics and machine learning that crunched data in various ways to help patients.

Reisenauer, whose own experience as a caregiver through his father’s battle with cancer inspired the contest, said the quality and creativity of the submissions exceeded Astellas’ expectations.

“We’re extremely happy with what we’ve been able to cover innovaton-wise," and he hopes the company will be "able to help the finalists here bring their innovations to the market to benefit patients," he said, adding, “This is an important commitment for Astellas Oncology. Being part of the cancer community, we see this as a responsibility and an obligation to do more than just provide our therapies."

Astellas Oncology treatments include prostate cancer drug Xtandi, which the company co-markets with Pfizer, and Tarceva, a non-small cell lung cancer and pancreatic cancer medication it makes in partnership with Roche's Genentech.

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The five 2017 C3 finalists are:

Kevin Bambury of Killarney, Ireland. His idea, called ONCOassist, is an app designed to help oncology professionals diagnose and manage cancer patient treatments at point of care.

Howard Isenstein of Bethesda, MD, proposed an called CarePrompter, which prompts patients to check in with their clinicians in an effort to improve patient navigation, adherence and care coordination.

Cory Kidd from San Francisco has developed the Mabu Wellness Coach Platform with an AI-powered companion robot at its core. The robot uses psychology, evidenced-based healthcare solutions and artificial intelligence to help patients better manage their care.

Hernâni Oliveira of Porto, Portugal, created the Hope Project. The two-part app is aimed at pediatric cancer patients and their parents to help them address issues of medication adherence, as well as the often sedentary lifestyle of children with cancer.

Charlotte Vander Stichele from Antwerp, Belgium, is with the company Mindbytes, which created the Cancer Patient Decision Aid, a shared interactive decision-support tool for use by patients during care.