Celgene, Lyfebulb put patient spin on MS innovation challenge

innovation
Celgene and Lyfebulb's innovation challenge for multiple sclerosis solutions is unique in that the ideas are sourced only from patient entrepreneurs. (Peshkova/iStock)

Innovation challenges continue to proliferate in the pharma industry, and Celgene's is the latest, seeking crowdsourced solutions for multiple sclerosis (MS) patients. Its partnership with Lyfebulb is unique, however, in that it only accepted entries from patients or direct relations of patients.

In the MS challenge with Celgene, Lyfebulb and its Big Biotech partner have narrowed the field to 10 patient entrepreneur finalists, with a "Shark Tank"-style finish set for June 12-13. Each finalist will get 10 minutes to present to a professional panel of judges that will include a patient advocacy group lead, patient ambassador and venture capitalist, plus reps from pharma and the insurance industry. At the end of the second day, one winner will be chosen for the top prize of $25,000. But even more valuable than the money, said Lyfebulb founder and CEO Karin Hehenberger, is the exposure to pharma executives, additional funding sources and other influential industry players.

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Celgene first approached Lyfebulb last year in an effort to better understand MS patient needs as it readied its first multiple sclerosis treatment for market. Since then, the FDA has pushed back on Celgene's candidate ozanimod with a refuse-to-file notice and a request more data on preclinical and clinical pharmacology, delaying the company's NDA filing until March of this year. The new ozanimod data hit its targets, though, and analysts project the drug could still reach $2 billion in sales in the already competitive oral MS drug market. In the meantime, Celgene has also become an M&A partner for Bristol-Myers Squibb in a $74 billion deal approved by shareholders in April.

The Celgene challenge for multiple sclerosis is Lyfebulb’s seventh patient-sourced contest, with previous partners including Novo Nordisk for diabetes, Helsinn Healthcare for oncology and United Healthcare for depression and anxiety solutions.

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Hehenberger, a physician and Type 1 diabetes patient who has walked the walk of chronic disease with two transplants and a pacemaker implant, launched the company in 2014 to help give patients a voice in industry solutions.

“We believe insights and solutions from patients can be leveraged by pharma and by tech and device companies to enhance their pipelines, to get closer to patients and to learn what it’s like to live with these diseases,” she said. “For the patients, they finally really get heard. For pharma companies, instead of just being patient-centric, they now work side by side with patients.”

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