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The Ipsen accelerator wants to be the building block of a long-term digital strategy

Dec 9, 2017 by April Smallwood

The 'Demo Day' from the NET Patient Accelerator organized in June 2016

More than just a weekend competition, the "NET Patient Accelerator" by Ipsen provides long-term support to 4 digital projects and is part of a global digital strategy of the pharmaceutical group.

The Ipsen operation started the same way traditional hackathons do: on the 9th and 10th of April 2016, 24 teams comprised of hackers and startups attended a "proof of concept" (POC) weekend to develop digital solutions for improving the quality of patient life, and monitoring and caring for patients with neuroendocrine tumors (NET).

The aim of the laboratory is to "implement innovative solutions by bringing together all stakeholders, patients’ associations, health professionals, developers and employees of Ipsen" and confirm themselves as a leader in the treatment of such diseases, explained Jacques Maydat, director of the endocrinology business unit from Ipsen, and in charge of the "NET Patient Accelerator".

After presenting the prototypes developed during the weekend in front of a jury composed of the key players in Ipsen’s ecosystem, four teams were selected to benefit from a 2-month incubation as part of the "NET Patient accelerator".

"Generally, the labs that organize these type of events don’t go further than the development of prototypes over a weekend, with the objective to generate buzz in the media and on social networks. Our aim was to drive these projects as far as possible by proposing an accelerator whereby they could benefit from qualitative coaching and mentoring", explained Jacques Maydat.

Scientific, medical, legal, financial and technical coaching were provided to project teams. They also benefited from the physical space provided by the company BeMyApp, the organizer of the operation.

The accelerated teams also benefited from a continuous connection with the association of endocrine tumor patients (Apted) and health professionals, endocrinologists and gastroenterologists.

"It was an enormous enrichment", revealed Pierre-Antoine Bastian, president of the startup MyRobotics. The company, supported by Ipsen, worked towards the design of a connected electrogustometer to measure taste disorders linked to cancer drugs’ side effects.

"We had no idea of ​​the procedure for releasing a connected object into the medical world. The acceleration program helped us a lot on the legal side and with business development", said the 27-year-old computer engineer, who had previously collaborated with major groups such as EDF, SNCF and Areva.


"Virtual Incubator"

After the acceleration phase, Ipsen invited in June several investors from the health ecosystem to a "Demo Day", where project leaders presented the results of their work. "Investors have been able to provide useful feedback to the startups in terms of project reliability, maturity and business potential” said Jacques Maydat.

As for the future, Ipsen committed to participating in the financing of two projects in the form of crowdfunding for an amount of €5,000 per project.

For the rewarded startups, the potential to collaborate with the laboratory does not end there. Ipsen’s digital transformation director, Malika Mir, has expressed his intention to open "a form of virtual incubator".

"Unlike other companies that have physical space to incubate the projects, we want to bring together innovators and find ways to help them other than financially", says Malika Mir.

These "well-defined term" partnerships may include providing specific skills, international mentoring and IT infrastructures, or connect them with Ipsen’s network (scientists, doctors, technical experts and technologies), says Malika Mir.

Why is this interesting for Ipsen? "We’re getting closer to the IT ecosystem of developers and startups because we are aware that, as a large company, we do not always have their agility and creativity", says the director.


Anticipating future partnerships

If each startup keeps the intellectual property of its solution, the selected candidates could ultimately bring added value to the work of Ipsen.

A possible trade partnership has already been discussed with the start-up MyRobotics for using its electrogustometer in laboratory testing protocols.

"We offer a drug toxicity variable that has never been measured before and could enable Ipsen to bring value to their product compared to some competitor products, and help them obtain authorizations to make it legal on the market", said Pierre-Antoine Bastian, indicating that discussions should be open about it in the first quarter of 2017, when his start-up hopes to obtain CE marking for his electrogustometer.

The same goes for potential discussions between the laboratory and the ZebrIA project led by Guillaume Palacios’ team, a physicist who worked for the CNRS and CEA.

The voice-analysis tool is coupled with artificial intelligence to measure the response of a patient in treatment, based on the information sent to their smartphone (side effects, symptoms, medications, etc.).

Currently tested by volunteers from Apted, ZebrIA, is the "first gear for patients" but it also gained the interest of the pharmaceutical industry to "understand how patients live treatment in their everyday life and gain information to better orientate medical research", said William Palacios.

Even if the project leader wants his startup to "remain independent and the owner of its technology and expertise", the project manager confirms to have aroused the curiosity of several laboratories. But "none has entered an advanced exchange like that which occurred with Ipsen," he noted.


Strategic areas of development

The "NET patient accelerator" also included the project Bress, which offers a tele-expertise platform to facilitate exchanges between doctors and communication with experts of TNE. Another project was Diappnose, an app that helps diagnosis by automated queries. Both are solutions contributing to the lab work of neuroendocrine tumors.

For Malika Mir, these tools must first "improve the lives of patients. We do not necessarily seek a return on investment in cash", she said.

Parallel to this "Beyond the pill" strategy, cited by Ipsen’s digital transformation director as one of lab’s three priority lines of action, new technologies are also being used by Ipsen in an effort to "get closer to the patient".

"In England, we’ve launched a collaborative platform between patients and health professionals – Know Your NETs – and we work on its implementation on a global scale", said Malika Mir.

The last axis of the group’s digital strategy is the transformation of internal processes in two ways: the first consisting of "further exploring the data to establish a true big data approach", the second on the solutions made available to employees, partners and suppliers of the laboratory to facilitate communication within the International laboratory ecosystem. 


April Smallwood

Originally written and published by Raphael Moreaux on TICPharma, a media specialized in the digital transformation of the health industry.