Innovators Take Home Prize Money for Developing Tools to Improve the Lives of Patients With Cancer


The three winners of an international competition were awarded grant money to further develop their innovations to better the lives of patients with cancer.

It started out as a global challenge to give innovators a platform to compete for grant money for their creative ideas on how to improve the cancer care experience for patients, caregivers and their loved ones. After more than 100 submissions from around the world, three winners have been announced for The Astellas Oncology C3 Prize.

The Grand Prize winner, Diane Jooris of Brussels, Belgium, was awarded a $50,000 grant. The two First Prize winners, Mark Harrison of Melbourne, Australia and Larry Pederson of Seattle, both received $25,000 grants. All three winners received a membership to MATTER, a community of entrepreneurs, innovators and industry leaders working together to improve health care.

“For me, it’s about effectiveness and reach,” said Robert Herjavec, investor on ABC’s hit show “Shark Tank” and one of the four judges of the competition, in an interview with CURE. “It’s a little odd for me, because we’re not looking for ideas that make money. On Shark Tank, we’re always looking for ideas that make money. That’s a very clear, tangible way to measure. Here, we’re looking for great ideas that are innovative.”

The four judges found just that in the products and resources created by the three winners. Jooris co-founded Oncomfort, a company that develops virtual reality modules designed to help manage anxiety in patients with cancer before, during and after treatment. Harrison created PROSTMATE, an online companion program designed to meet the needs of men with prostate cancer and their families. Finally, Pederson founded The Litebook Company, which has developed a light therapy device for use as a tool to reduce cancer fatigue.

Taking Home The Grand Prize

Two years ago, Jooris’ idea came to life. She was inspired to create Oncomfort after taking care of her younger sister, who found that stress built up after breast cancer treatment. As a mental health professional, Jooris also saw patients dealing with similar situations and wanted a way to help them.

“What we do is not only virtual reality — it’s really about empowering the patient,” Jooris told CURE. “The technology is essential because it is a medium for us to deliver our interventions. It’s important to not put patients into a poor environment. It’s about training them and teaching them.”

She reveals that often times patients become stressed with the jargon used during medical procedures and doctor’s visits because they don’t understand the language and what they really are about to encounter.

The virtual reality takes patients out of their stressful state to inform them on what they may not understand during those surgical procedures.

“We know that winning such a prize can help make our vision come true and take it to the next level,” said Jooris. “We strongly believe we can make a huge impact, and not just for young people who usually have psychological support, but also to minorities and people who usually don’t have the money or have the language proficiency to have access to this kind of support.”

Currently, OnComfort is used in hospitals in France, Belgium and in Houston, Texas. Jooris hopes that it will continue to reach other countries. In fact, she is in talks with centers in Canada and Singapore to start using it in clinics there as well.

First Prize Winners

PROSTMATE, launched in 2014, is a place where men with prostate cancer can get a tailored experience, no matter where they are located in the world.

The website gives patients access to support information, allows them to track and monitor their results and physical well-being, as well as connects them to a range of clinicians and allied health professionals for direct consultations.

“PROSTMATE fills a vital need in the prostate cancer landscape, particularly by reaching men and their families in hard to get to places,” Harrison, CEO of Australian Prostate Cancer Research (APCR), told CURE. “The Astellas Oncology C3 Prize will allow APCR to develop its functionality and broaden its reach even further, by providing funds and expert guidance for its evolution.”

The resource is entirely free. Although created in Australia, where prostate cancer affects one in five men, he hopes it will have a global impact.

Harrison added that come 2017, he hopes PROSTMATE can release more system updates together with an extensive distribution strategy — and he feels this prize will help him reach that goal.

Pederson is also aiming for global outreach with his creation, The Litebook. Created in 2000, he initially was hoping to help those affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

However, that changed in 2011, when Sonia Ancoli-Israel, Ph.D., professor at The University of California San Diego School of Medicine, decided to study the effects of light treatment on chemotherapy-related fatigue in women with breast cancer via The Litebook.

That study found that bright light in the morning may prevent fatigue from worsening during chemotherapy.

“I am a someone who lost both parents to cancer,” said Pederson in an interview with CURE. “My father passed away before I came up with Litebook, and I saw him suffer through the experience. I saw firsthand, the fatigue that took him from a healthy, vibrant person to someone who was unable to do anything but lay on the couch. Cancer-related fatigue has been an overlooked side effect of cancer and none of the treatments have really benefitted or improved over the years.”

He feels the Litebook can change that for millions of people. Meant to reset an individual’s circadian rhythm, the Litebook should be used in the first hour of waking up each morning for about 15 to 30 minutes, making sure the light is directed at the eyes.

Being sold in two models, the $99 one needs to be plugged in and for $179 you can get the more portable version. Both do not require the help of a clinician. Pederson plans to use the grant money to help educate patients, caregivers and oncologists about the light tool.

Change Through Innovation

For all three winners, it really comes down to improving quality of life for patients with cancer. Their creations are their way of trying to make that happen today and in the future — something Herjavec echoes.

“It’s a long process, as anyone who’s been affected knows,” said Herjavec. “It’s a real learning curve and the stuff that you learn about isn’t just related to cancer and care and chemo. It’s always also about the patient experience. It’s an area where I think technology and innovation has been relatively slow to catch up. That’s one of the great things about the C3 Prize and Astellas, is that we’re shining a light on innovation and trying to get a conversation started and, really, a movement around innovation and patient care.”

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