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Empowerment is a powerful need during the cancer journey and a commonality of the ideas of the three Astellas Oncology C3 Prize finalists. Mark Reisenauer, senior vice president, oncology business unit, Astellas, sat down with cancer activist Bill Rancic to discuss these game-changing ideas. RSVP to watch the virtual pitch on March 23.

The coronavirus pandemic continues to have a significant and often negative impact on people with cancer. Problems resulting from the pandemic, including declines in diagnosis to delays in treatment, could persist for years according to a recent study published in JCO Clinical Cancer Informatics. People impacted by cancer and their loved ones navigate a complex journey every day, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only added to these challenges.

The good news? Positive changes in cancer care are also at work, sparked by passionate innovators who seek to improve the cancer journey for people living with cancer and their loved ones. Three of these innovators were chosen as finalists for the fifth annual Astellas Oncology C3 (Changing Cancer Care) Prize, an annual challenge fueling big ideas in cancer care beyond medicine that unify care around the patient. The three finalists, female entrepreneurs from across the globe, have identified unique solutions to ease the cancer journey sparked by their personal and professional experiences. Each of the solutions fosters empowerment during the cancer care journey in different ways: teaching mind-body strategies that help improve well-being during each step of cancer care, providing people on their cancer journey with the tools to articulate their own stories, and by connecting patients to care and resources that might otherwise be unavailable to them.

Dr. Valeria Arango Velez, founder of Healing Presents, Lisa McKenzie, founder of You Night Empowering Events, and Dr. Omolola Salako, founder of Oncopadi, are this year’s finalists for the Astellas Oncology C3 Prize. The C3 Prize is awarding up to $200,000 in grants and resources to help advance their promising ideas during a virtual pitch event on March 23, 2021 at 11 a.m. CT on the Astellas US Facebook page. The event is open to the public and attendees can RSVP and learn more here.

“Astellas Oncology recognizes the need to cultivate ideas that are making an impact in the cancer care community beyond medicine, a need I experienced personally as a caregiver,” said Mark Reisenauer, senior vice president, oncology business unit, Astellas. Reisenauer experienced the challenging nature of the cancer care experience after his father was diagnosed with head and neck cancer. “This year’s Astellas Oncology C3 Prize finalists are meeting critical needs for patients and caregivers, by creating tools that will empower people with cancer during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.”

Over the past five years, Astellas Oncology has awarded over $500,000 to 15 innovators. This has a ripple effect in their communities — communities that comprise of academic and healthcare institutions, startups and non-profits, and represent six countries and several U.S. states. The C3 Prize directly reflects the mission of Astellas Oncology: to make every day better for those impacted by cancer.

Meet the 2020 finalists

Dr. Valeria Arango Velez, a medical doctor, surgeon, and cancer survivor from Colombia, is focused on bringing mind-body therapies to people during their cancer journey through an app called Healing Presents. Healing Presents is designed to help address challenges and improve care and the overall experience for cancer patients. As an adolescent, Arango Velez had cancer herself, spurring her understanding of the emotional needs that patients experience during their cancer journey. She recognizes that throughout this journey, cancer patients need support and connection with others to improve awareness, quality of life, and psycho-physiological wellbeing.

Lisa McKenzie, an entrepreneur from Louisiana, created an organization called You Night Empowering Events to help inspire people with cancer in her community. Her C3 Prize idea is a narrative therapy storytelling course that helps people living with cancer share the story of their life’s journey — beyond their cancer diagnosis — as well as find their inner strength and provide encouragement to other people experiencing cancer. McKenzie believes that these patients’ lives can be changed for the better simply by sharing their experience so that other people can understand what they are going through.

Dr. Omolola Salako is an expert in radiation oncology and an innovator from Nigeria. Her personal journey to change cancer care started in 2003, when her sister was diagnosed with advanced kidney cancer and ultimately passed away. The experience led Salako to her profession in oncology and motivated her to create Oncopadi, an app that connects cancer patients with the specialists and hospitals they need to access care, filling a major gap in Salako’s home country of Nigeria. Oncopadi is centered on democratizing cancer information and care through technology so that people can find out they have cancer and receive treatment earlier, before the cancer has progressed. A digital patient navigator, the app provides telemedicine, symptom tracker, patient educational materials, and an online cancer support group.

Be a part of the movement to change cancer care

In March, Arango Velez, McKenzie, and Salako will pitch their ideas virtually to an expert judging panel of leaders in business, innovation and cancer care, with cancer activist Bill Rancic serving as emcee. Judges include Mark Reisenauer, senior vice president, oncology business unit, Astellas; Margaret Laws, president and CEO, Hopelab; Ebele Mbanugo, executive director, Run for a Cure Africa; Steve Alperin, CEO, SurvivorNet; and Steven Collens, CEO, MATTER.

The judges will select one Grand Prize winner to be awarded $100,000 in grant funding and two Innovation Prize winners to be awarded $50,000 in grants. All three winners will have access to mentorship and a yearlong membership to MATTER, a global healthcare startup incubator, community nexus and corporate innovation accelerator; the Grand Prize winner will also receive hands-on support, expertise, and resources from Slalom, a modern consulting firm focused on strategy, technology, and business transformation.

Tune into the virtual pitch event — and make sure to RSVP now — on the Astellas US Facebook page at 11:00 a.m. CT on March 23, 2021 to watch the finalists pitch their ideas to an expert judging panel of leaders in business, innovation and cancer care. Learn more about the pitch event and sign up for updates at