Pfizer contest dares tech types to improve lives of metastatic breast cancer patients

Even as breast cancer awareness has soared, patients who develop metastatic breast cancer are often overlooked. Pfizer, in partnership with Health 2.0, is challenging tech entrepreneurs to change that.

Pfizer, which sells the fast-growing breast cancer treatment, Ibrance, is sponsoring an innovation challenge, calling on tech-savvy businesspeople to come up with solutions that would help women live better lives with metastatic breast cancer.

Women with metastatic disease are living longer than ever. Some 20% to 30% of breast cancer patients progress to metastatic stages, and though the average survival rate is three years, some patients live 10 years or longer after diagnosis. Unlike patients who survive early-stage breast cancer, these women are treated for many years, said Maria Koehler, VP of strategy and innovation at Pfizer Oncology.

“It is becoming a chronic disease with very specific needs," Koehler said of metastatic breast cancer. "The problem is, because patients live for so many years and with a disease thought to be non-curable, it is a completely different psychological problem, payer problem, family problem and really everyone’s problem about how to maintain and keep the patient reasonably happy in living with this cancer."

Pfizer’s latest idea for addressing the problem is the “Advancing Care for Patients Living with mBC Challenge,” a contest open to anyone who can create tech-enabled solutions to positively affect the lives of patients living with metastatic breast cancer.

Contestants can submit ideas online through January 20. Those submissions will then be judged by a multi-disciplinary panel that includes oncologists, patients and tech experts. From there, five semi-finalists will be chosen and given guidance for honing their ideas. In the final phase, three of the innovators will pitch their ideas in person to the panel in front of a live audience. The winner will receive a $130,000 grant out of a total of $250,000 in prizes that will be awarded.

Pfizer’s appeal on behalf of metastatic breast cancer patients was conceived after it conducted a study of advancements in fighting metastatic breast cancer from 2005 to 2015. Published last year, the study helped Pfizer identify gaps in metastatic breast cancer care. One of the gaps was a dearth of new and relevant tech-enabled solutions that could empower those patients, Koehler said.

The challenge is similar to other crowd-sourced initiatives run by pharma companies—such as Takeda’s “Shark Tank”-like challenge for depression solutions and Astellas Oncology's contest for non-treatment cancer care solutions—that actively seek technology innovations to make patients’ lives better.

It also fits into work that Pfizer Oncology has been conducting over the past two years, looking for beyond-the-pill, patient-centric solutions via internal innovation and external partnerships. The company has also been working since 2014 on an awareness effort, Story Half Told, featuring women with metastatic breast cancer.

“This is the type of thing we are doing in addition to producing drugs. We have a conviction that it’s not about giving patients drugs, it’s about helping patients have a better life with cancer,” she said.