Novo Nordisk’s first diabetes innovation challenge winners head to the lab

artist rendering
Novo Nordisk recently announced five winners from its first innovation challenge that crowdsourced tech solutions for diabetes. (Novo Nordisk)

From smart insulin pen caps to artificial intelligence systems for seniors, Novo Nordisk capped its first innovation challenge last month with five tech-plus-diabetes idea winners. The pharma awarded each winning team a cash prize of $25,000 and 12 weeks in a virtual accelerator program to build and test their ideas alongside Novo Nordisk mentors. The accelerator starts this month and runs through March.

Novo Nordisk’s original pitch in September asked people to submit ideas around new ways to use data and connected technologies to help patients, caregivers and others in the diabetes space.

“It’s been a great opportunity for learning and growth for so many people at Novo Nordisk. We recognize that we can’t do it alone and the healthcare space is changing so much that we need to look outside of our traditional way of doing business to build on innovation,” Amy West, senior director of patient marketing and digital health, said. “It’s a different way of conducting our business and a great way to open up to new opportunities. We can build on the successes we’ve had, but also leverage those of others.”

Novo Nordisk received 79 completed submissions from 20 countries around the world, which were then whittled down to 12 finalists invited to a three-day event held at co-sponsor Matter’s labs in Chicago. The 12 teams then presented their concepts to a panel of judges from Novo Nordisk at a demo day at Harvard Medical School.

RELATED: Say hello to Sophia, Novo Nordisk's new online chatbot, available 24/7 for diabetes questions

This first innovation challenge, and potentially others to come, are important for both Novo Nordisk and entrepreneurs in health tech for future innovation and development, West said.

“Being exposed to that innovative entrepreneurial space is an opportunity for us to think about our business differently and how we approach the problem we’re trying to solve differently,” she said, adding that doing so may include partnering with third-party innovators but also rethinking some of its own internal R&D processes.

RELATED: Innovation challenges multiply: Will pharma seeking tech entrepreneurs drain the brain pool?

Novo joins other pharma companies including Johnson & Johnson, Astellas and Merck that have adopted the crowdsourced innovation challenges now surging in the industry. Luminary Labs, a consultancy that helps pharma and healthcare companies run innovation challenges, did a study last year about the state of these contests and found that more than three-fourths (77%) of healthcare and pharma companies are working on open innovation program development. Companies are using the crowdsourced contests both to develop new solutions and position themselves as innovative.

Novo Nordisk's interest specifically in diabetes comes from its history in the disease area. Its current lineup of branded therapies for diabetes includes Ozempic, Victoza, Tresiba and Levemir. Its most recent third-quarter financials showed it generated 81% of total revenue through diabetes care sales.

The full list of Novo Nordisk winners and their ideas is:

*Adelie Health is working on a smart pen cap that will fit all prefilled insulin pens. The cap includes reminders, alarms and sensors that can send data via Bluetooth to personal devices.

*HumanCapitalWorks has created “Emmett,” an AI-powered diabetes management solution.

*Medopad is building a remote monitoring solution for healthcare providers that can be customized to meet specific needs.

*SimpleC has created an artificial intelligence platform for seniors who are dealing with both cognitive impairment and diabetes; its capabilities include keeping their caregivers and doctors informed.

*xBird is using machine learning to analyze micromovements and other data collected by smartphones and wearables.