In September 2018, Novo Nordisk launched its first-ever Innovation Challenge in order to help form relationships within the healthcare innovation community outside of pharma and potentially co-develop new solutions to help patients with diabetes. Partnering with MATTER, the incubator and community of healthcare innovators, Novo Nordisk asked for potential solutions that could help address one or a combination of the following needs of people living with diabetes: Data sharing, titration, the patient-provider dialogue, and how to combine the company’s pen injector data with other health data to creative relevant health insights.

In December, Novo Nordisk announced the five finalists that were selected to receive $25,000 and be invited to participate in a three-month virtual accelerator program where they can work with Novo Nordisk and MATTER to further develop their solutions. The five finalists were:

  • Adelie HealthThis company developed a replacement pen cap that includes reminders and alarms, a sensor to detect usage, and Bluetooth to send data to a smart device.
  • HumanCapitalWorksEmmett, the company’s digital health solution for parents and caregivers of patients with type 1 diabetes, offers a voice-enabled interface to help reduce the cognitive burden, anxiety, and fear associated with the critical decisions made during management of the disease.
  • MedopadThey offer a remote monitoring solution that provides clinicians, caregivers, and patients continuous visibility to enable earlier detection of health problems.
  • SimpleCTheir AI-powered platform delivers ongoing, individualized, evidence-based digital therapeutics for seniors living with varying states of cognitive impairment and diabetes.
  • xBirdUsing machine learning to analyze micro-movements and other data collected by sensors built into people’s smartphones and wearables, this company’s technology creates a journey map of a person’s day, highlighting those activities that happened in the context of hypo- and hyperglycemic events.
The teams from the five finalist companies selected by Novo Nordisk and MATTER at the Innovation Challenge’s “Demo Day” at Harvard Medical School in December 2018.

PM360 spoke with Amy West, Senior Director of Patient Marketing & Digital Health at Novo Nordisk, about the process behind the challenge and selecting the finalists, what’s next for the finalists, and what Novo Nordisk hopes to achieve through this challenge.

PM360: What were your goals for this program when you first launched it back in September?

Amy West: Novo Nordisk is a company that’s been built on innovation and we wanted to continue to build on our innovation as we looked to the future of healthcare and finding ways to deliver support and solutions to people who are dealing with managing chronic disease, particularly diabetes. We know that as we look to the future with the changes in technology and digitization, we can’t do it alone at this point. We wanted to open up opportunities to others who are in this space such as the startup communities, entrepreneurs, and academic institutions that are fostering some really good thinking out there to see how we could potentially partner and leverage each other’s assets, best practices, and innovations.

How much interest did you get from those outside companies and institutions in the challenge’s first year?

Through the challenge process, we received about 249 people or teams who at least registered. But in terms of final submission, we had about 79 teams who actually submitted a completed proposal. And this was a true global challenge as received submissions from over 20 countries around the world.

And then, of those proposals that were submitted, we had a selection committee that consisted of various experts including data scientists, a medical doctor, a tech scout, an anthropologist, etc., who evaluated the various submissions. So, from the 79 completed submissions we selected 12 semi-finalists who were then invited to a three-day bootcamp session at MATTER, who we collaborated with on this challenge.

How did the three-day bootcamp session go?

The bootcamp was held in mid-November, and it was an opportunity for us to sit down with the teams and combine those individuals with the mentors that volunteered from Novo Nordisk across the entire organization. We had about 29 different mentors from various functional areas from our headquarters in Copenhagen, our U.S. headquarters in Plainsboro, and our Seattle arm focused on medical device R&D.

They partnered with the different teams to understand their challenges, what they’re looking to do with their businesses, helping them with their value proposition, and helping them understand the healthcare landscape and market, including the regulatory perspective. Since we come from the Big Pharma world, we can provide insight to those areas that people outside the industry don’t necessarily have access to.

What was the process like getting down to the five finalists?

The 12 semi-finalists presented an overview of their proposals to a panel of our judges from Novo Nordisk at our Demo Day in Boston at Harvard Medical School on December 5, which was open to the public. The judges identified the five finalists based on criteria that revolved around three areas: What is the patient focus? What is the innovation that is truly new and differentiating? And what’s the sustainability factor of the opportunity/business model?

As finalists, they were awarded $25,000 from Novo Nordisk to invest in their innovation and nurture their offering. They also received a one-year subscription membership to MATTER. And they have the opportunity to participate in a three-month virtual accelerator program that, again, will be hosted by Novo Nordisk and MATTER. Over this time, we hope to help them develop and finalize their potential solutions, which could result in co-development opportunity with Novo Nordisk, but they will get that $25,000 even if they choose not to develop anything with us.

Each of the five companies you picked are approaching helping people deal with diabetes from different angles, was that also a consideration when you were making your final decision in order to diversify the different solutions you could make available to patients?

Absolutely, I think we want to make sure that we’re not being myopic about our approach. We want to welcome different points of view and I think what’s also really nice about what we’re seeing with not just the finalists but many of the submissions is that a lot of what they are doing is based on a personal connection to the disease state. It comes from a very near and dear need place, and a true passion and commitment to trying to help a loved one or oneself. And that passion really helps drive that innovation and desire to take it to the next level.

But ultimately, I think one of the reasons we received such a broad range of solutions is because there are many possible solutions since they really depend upon the needs of the individual. Because of that, we also want to be as broad as possible. That’s why I also want to point out that while we identified five finalists from this challenge, that does not mean that we don’t want to continue to work with others that submitted. We want to build our network in this space and continue to commit to potential partnerships if they make sense.

Can you tell me more about the three-month program that the finalists will now be a part of?

Absolutely, we are very excited to kick off the next phase of this Innovation Challenge. We will be connecting with the finalists to do a bit of an assessment in order to understand where they feel they have some opportunities to learn and expand, and then we will align their needs with the expertise of our mentor pool.

We will assign a lead mentor for each team who will then be almost like a Sherpa as they move through the next three months of the program. They will help to align each finalist with the right people within our community as well as the MATTER community. And they will continue to work with them to refine their proposals and value propositions in order to prepare them for the commencement day at the end of March. But over the course of the three months, there will be plenty of opportunities for all of the finalists to create a community for themselves and to build a support network that can help them even after the program ends. It is all about creating a living, breathing ecosystem of innovation.

Do you expect that the finalists will all be able to launch their solutions at the end of this three-month program?

The objective is to get the finalists to a point where they could commercialize the technology or leverage it in a way that they could actually implement it in a market setting. They are all looking to get their ideas off the ground and usable by people in this space, so that would be one of goals. But sometimes these things take time. It just depends on the market readiness and what’s going on in the industry.

Can you say anything specifically about what these five companies are doing that excited you and what you feel the impact of their final solutions could be?

There are a few things that really strike me about these companies, in fact about many of the companies involved in the challenge, including their fresh thinking and the way that they’re leveraging technology to create greater visibility in interconnectivity of what medication is doing relative to other activities of daily life. Bringing that to life in a more understandable way is really interesting. For instance, how people are leveraging voice-activation technology to reach out to different sub-populations. And then, how to help the individual needs of those various different sub-populations. We had some finalists that were very focused on the type 1 population while others were focused on the aging population, and then a company like SimpleC is focused specifically on those with Alzheimer’s.

We saw a lot of interesting approaches trying to help people of different sub categories who all have different needs, which goes back to what we were talking about before in terms of there not being just one solution to the issues people have with diabetes. We need different solutions and different combinations of these solutions, in order to help as many people as possible.

The other thing that really stood out is the finalists’ general enthusiasm for what they’re doing. And that married up very nicely with Novo Nordisk and our passion to help people with diabetes. At the end of the day, we are all very committed to finding solutions that will work for the individual in a way that helps them live better lives without the burden of disease.

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