Leo Pharma's dermatology innovation challenge gathers ideas focused on skin of color

3d illustration of virtual human on technology background.
Leo Pharma's third annual innovation challenge went virtual for the first time in the 2020 contest that asked for ideas unique to skin of color. (monsiti/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Leo Pharma's latest "hackathon" brought together scientists and entrepreneurs to find dermatology solutions for people of color.

The third "Hacking Dermatology Innovation Challenge" tasked participants to focus on the specific challenges faced by "patients with skin of color.” The partnership between Leo's research and development unit and nonprofit skin advocacy group Advancing Innovation in Dermatology (AID)  named five winning teams over the weekend.

Research has shown that diagnosing skin of color can be more difficult because of darker pigmentation as well as differences in the way inflammation presents. The "Hacking Dermatology" contest that ran through Sunday hopes to help with the issue.

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Some of the ideas Leo was looking for included shortening diagnostic delays, making diagnoses more accurate, offering better personalized care, making clinical trials more diverse and providing empowerment and education that could lead to equity in technology advancements, Michael Sierra, vice president of the Leo Science & Tech Hub, said.

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MIT Hacking Medicine is also part of this year’s challenge. While this is the third "Hacking Dermatology" challenge, it’s the first time the challenge was completely virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“What's really cool about entrepreneurs and scientists is that most of us are introverts, right, so working in a virtual setting isn't the biggest challenge. We've seen quite a good turnout,” Sierra said.

The three-day event began with a pitch session. Contributors then presented and competed over two days, with the winner announced Oct. 25.

The winning teams received $15,000 in grants and a chance to move to an advanced challenge with another $25,000 prize. The teams are mentored by volunteers from a variety of backgrounds and get access to resources that could potentially bring the winning projects to life.

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The project was born in 2018 after Leo brought together key opinion leaders and scientists to consider innovation challenges in the field. Hacking Dermatology was created as a way to help healthcare professionals, entrepreneurs and others solve the real problems they've discovered, William Ju, M.D., one of the challenge founders and president and founder of AID, said.

“You can come to look and promote your idea, refine it, find key members and move it forward into something that is very tangible,” he said.

Over the past few years, Leo Pharma has purchased dermatology businesses including Bayer’s prescription unit and Astellas' portfolio. Leo also markets plaque psoriasis drugs Enstilar and Taclonex.

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