2020 Pulmonary Fibrosis Innovation Challenge ends with top solutions aligned to patient imperatives
Medtech venture oxyGEN named winner
Three Lakes Foundation, the sponsor of the 2020 Pulmonary Fibrosis Innovation Challenge along with Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation (PFF) and MATTER, concluded a nearly year-long effort to source novel and innovative solutions for PF.
“Finding, funding and fostering the next generation of innovators working in pulmonary fibrosis is core to the Three Lakes Foundation mission,” stated Dana Ball, executive director. “We were fortunate to have an incredibly talented group of teams across a variety of different focus areas in this year’s cohort. The work being done by all the teams is really advancing what is possible.”
“Finding, funding and fostering the next generation of innovators working in pulmonary fibrosis is core to the Three Lakes Foundation mission,” stated Dana Ball, executive director.
PF occurs when lung tissue becomes damaged and scarred. Over time the scar tissues destroy the lung, making it harder for patients to breathe and for oxygen to enter the bloodstream. Approximately 40,000 to 50,000 people each year are diagnosed with PF and 40,000 die annually.
oxyGEN, a medtech venture out of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore was selected as the first place winner and received $50,000 to advance their solution and a one year membership to MATTER. Their solution is a novel, portable oxygen concentrator that tracks, monitors and automatically adjusts the oxygen level for each patient, improving mobility and quality of life.
“Winning the competition has been an incredible opportunity and comes at a pivotal time for our team as we seek to refine our design and build the foundation for the business. Winning provides us with a financial runway, a wealth of mentorship resources and a network of folks willing to help us transform our concept into a meaningful product,” said Jessica Dakkak, one of the oxyGEN co-founders.
Physician-researcher Sydney Montesi, MD received the second-place award for her solution that detects changes in the lungs before significant damage occurs, using positron emission tomography (PET). RecoverX received the third-place award. The startup demonstrated how a new diagnostic tool can apply artificial intelligence and evidence-based data to accurately accelerate improving time to diagnosis. Finally, attendees selected Adair Health for the People’s Choice award. Their portable, “tricorder-style” hand-held device has the ability to measure more than 10 vitals in just 30 seconds.
Identifying the problem: Community perspectives drive challenge focus areas
The program initially launched in February 2020 but was quickly paused amid the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, which sidelined highly vulnerable PF patients and absorbed the attention of pulmonologists working on the front lines of care. During this pause, it was crucial to learn more about what PF patients, caregivers and healthcare providers had to say about the challenges facing them. In June, Three Lakes Foundation, Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation and MATTER launched the PF Perspectives Project to collect these stories and better understand the biggest challenges to living with or caring for someone with PF.
Leveraging the reach of the MATTER community, targeted outreach and support from co-sponsor the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation, and collaboration from Cigna, AbbVie, Polsinelli Law and the COPD Foundation the campaign asked the question, “What is the most pressing problem facing the PF community and what is the role of innovation?”
Dozens of submissions were received and resulted in the development of the PF Perspectives Library: a resource that illuminates key concerns from patients, caregivers and clinicians about the role of innovation in their community. Five of the perspectives were awarded $500 and went on to participate directly with innovators in the program creating personal connections and experience-based recommendations.
“The underlying problem is that the necessary information is unobserved, unrecognized or insufficient for the primary care provider to diagnose PF, as this is a rare disease and we practice prescriptive medicine.” - Cyril-Patrick, patient
“The underlying problem is that the necessary information is unobserved, unrecognized or insufficient for the primary care provider to diagnose PF.” - Cyril-Patrick, patient
Pulmonary health perspectives in the COVID-19 era: Focus areas for PF innovation
Stakeholders throughout the PF community were brought together on August 18, 2020 to discuss challenges in pulmonary health and opportunities to improve PF awareness, diagnosis and care. The conversation featured perspectives from patients, caregivers, innovators and healthcare providers. Each shared their own experiences living with, caring for or building solutions for people living with PF — and how healthcare innovators can help. The participants included:
- Dana Ball, executive director of Three Lakes Foundation
- Stephanie Goldman, PF caregiver
- Dr. Maryluz Fuentes, primary care physician and PF patient
- Dr. Fernando Martinez, chief of the division of pulmonary and critical care medicine at New York-Presbyterian Hospital’s Weill Cornell Medical Center
- Eamonn Costello, CEO of patientMpower and 2017 IPF Catalyst Challenge winner
Four key focus areas emerged during the discussion:
1. Early identification: “I can not stress enough the importance of being able to identify early warning signs of this disease. In my mother’s case, for the span of about a year and a half, what we first attributed to a shortness of breath, the need to lose weight and exercise more turned out to be something much more sinister.” - Stephanie Goldman, caregiver and PFF Ambassador
2. Better diagnostic solutions for early diagnosis: “One of the most needed areas for us is simplifying the diagnostic process and providing the patient with a clear view of what their expectations should be so that they can make appropriate decisions over the course of their disease course.” - Fernando Martinez, M.D. clinician and participant in the 2017 IPF Catalyst Challenge
3. Care, treatment and quality of life: “My wife’s primary challenge was running out of breath. There was always tremendous anxiety around doing activities and not returning in time to get the oxygen concentrator replenished.” - Tom, founder of Three Lakes Foundation
4. Unique opportunities during COVID-19: “Patients are on oxygen around the clock. And the cough already had a stigma in the past, but that stigma is so much stronger today as a result of COVID-19.” - Dr. Maryluz Fuentes, patient
“On the awareness side, COVID-19 can help us get across to the broader community and the world that lung health is important. Because COVID-19 has a negative effect on the lungs, I think that can aid us indirectly in enhancing awareness of the pulmonary fibrosis community. It’s an opportunity that we have to embrace.” - Dr. Fernando Martinez
The panel concluded by urging innovators to identify how new and existing innovations could be applied to make a difference for the PF community across these challenge focus areas and submit their solutions.
Choosing the Cohort
Following a 8-week submission period, a cohort of 12 finalist teams was selected from a global pool of nearly 50 submissions spanning 36 cities and 10 countries. Read more about the finalists here
Incubating Ideas for the PF patient
The cohort then moved into a six-week virtual incubator where teams refined and pressure tested their solutions with the help of subject matter experts and stakeholders from the PF community — including corporate leaders at organizations like Abbvie and Cigna, physicians, patients and caregivers. The incubator started the same way the challenge did: highlighting perspectives from the PF community.
Next, teams worked in a hands-on value proposition workshop to refine the core business case for their solution. The next several weeks brought key stakeholders throughout the healthcare ecosystem including intellectual property, payer perspectives, venture capital funding, life sciences collaborations, clinician, radiologist and pilot planning. Collectively, these sessions provided the entrepreneurs with a well-rounded framework for their final solution pitch.
Throughout the incubator, teams also met with MATTER venture acceleration fellow Larry Schor to help them focus on specific areas of their solution, and refine their presentations.
As shared by challenge winner and oxyGEN co-founder Jessica Dakkak,”The incubator did a tremendous job of introducing us to a community of mentors, entrepreneurs, and allies in the respiratory space that have been so willing to engage and support us.”
Teams gather virtually for final pitch day
On November 18, 2020, after a nearly year-long effort Three Lakes Foundation and MATTER gathered a distinguished panel of judges — Dr. Greg Cosgrove, PFF; Taralyn Romero, vice president of innovation, Cigna, Ruth Tal-Singer, president and CSO at COPD Foundation and David Peterson, global associate director of commercial business development strategy, AbbVie — to hear final pitches and help identify the winners of the challenge. The presentations reflected the culmination of each solution, refined by each team’s incubator participation.
“People living with pulmonary fibrosis today — and those who will be diagnosed in the years ahead — need new technologies that can speed up diagnosis and improve their lives,” added Steven Collens, CEO of MATTER. “I’m delighted we could find these winning companies and look forward to helping them bring their innovations to reality for the patients who need them most.”
“Our goal is to create a global community of the most dedicated, brightest and best talent for not just this year’s event, but also for future events and new funding opportunities, “ says Dana Ball, executive director of Three Lakes Foundation. “The work continues.”
“Our goal is to create a global community of the most dedicated, brightest and best talent for not just this year’s event, but also for future events and new funding opportunities,” says Dana Ball, executive director of Three Lakes Foundation. “The work continues.”
Dedicated to serving as a catalyst for change in the PF community, Three Lakes Foundation plans to continue their new relationships with the Innovation Challenge winners to monitor progress and impact. For more information about the PF Innovation Challenge and the 2020 winners, visit the website: threelakesfoundation.org