Bristol Myers Squibb's MS innovation challenge winners tap technology for patients

An artificial intelligence device that helps multiple sclerosis patients rehabilitate foot drop symptoms took the top prize in Bristol Myers Squibb’s latest MS innovation challenge.

Pierluigi Mantovani, co-founder of Evolution Devices, combined an electrical stimulus device with intelligent software after watching his own father struggle with foot drop. It's a common MS symptom that causes difficulty for people lifting the front of their foot to the correct angle when walking.

Mantovani is taking home $25,000 as the top winner in the BMS and Lyfebulb partner challenge, which started at Celgene before it was acquired by BMS in late 2019. The contest is unique in that it is only open to people living with multiple sclerosis and their loved ones.

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Celgene first approached Lyfebulb in 2018 to get a better understanding of MS patient needs as it was readying candidate ozanimod for market. Bristol Myers got an FDA nod for ozanimod, now with the brand name Zeposia, in March. The pharma delayed the initial launch of the relapsing MS drug because of the pandemic, but officially entered the crowded market in June.  

“The caliber of entries and the ingenuity they represent exemplifies the importance of sourcing solutions from those with the most intimate knowledge of multiple sclerosis—people with this disease and their loved ones," Tina Deignan, senior VP and head of Bristol's U.S. immunology unit, said in a release.

Two other winners are taking home honorable mention awards. Lucy Jones, founder of FFORA—which specializes in products for people with disabilities—won with a suite of lifestyle wheelchair-attachable products. And Tish Scolnik, co-founder of GRIT, won for the company’s all-terrain wheelchairs that help people with physical limitations participate in outdoor activities.

RELATED: Bristol Myers Squibb's Zeposia launches into crowded MS market

Ten finalists competed in a final pitch this week presenting to a panel of judges from across the industry. Ideas from wearable devices and transportation access to exercise and training programs were presented during the two days of judging.

BMS and Lyfebulb plan to host a virtual session with the three winners and some of the judges on Tuesday, March 16. The session is open to community members with more information at Lyfebulb's website