Dr. Omolola Salako’s journey to change cancer care started in 2003 when her younger sister passed away from advanced kidney cancer. Today, almost 18 years later, Dr. Salako, now an oncologist and entrepreneur in Lagos, Nigeria, is fighting for the lives of other Nigerians impacted by cancer. Her organization, Oncopadi, connects patients with care through an app that includes telemedicine, symptom trackers, educational materials and support groups.
On March 23, a panel of judges selected Dr. Salako as the Grand Prize winner of the fifth annual Astellas Oncology C3 (Changing Cancer Care) Prize. The C3 Prize is a global challenge that sparks cancer care innovations beyond medicines by awarding grants and resources to advance ideas that make a big impact in the cancer community. This year’s challenge awarded three prizes: one $100,000 Grand Prize and two $50,000 Innovation Prizes.
“Cancer is a public health crisis in Nigeria, where the ratio of a clinical oncologist to new cancer patients is extremely low and cancer death rates are high,” said Dr. Salako. “I see this firsthand as an oncologist. The Oncopadi app navigates cancer patients and caregivers from the comfort of their home, to the clinic and back home.”
With the funds from the C3 Prize, Dr. Salako intends to expand the reach of Oncopadi, so that more people can connect with specialists and receive treatment earlier, before their cancer has progressed. Oncopadi will onboard more cancer clinics with high patient volumes and partner with academic institutions and patient groups.
Typically, the pitch challenge is held in person, but this year, the three finalists pitched their ideas virtually to an expert judging panel of leaders in business, innovation and cancer care, with cancer activist Bill Rancic serving as emcee. This virtual format allows anyone to watch the event from anywhere, bringing together the full cancer community. Judges included Steve Alperin, CEO, SurvivorNet; Steven Collens, CEO, MATTER; Margaret Laws, president and CEO, Hopelab; Ebele Mbanugo, executive director, Run for a Cure Africa and 2018 C3 Prize Grand Prize winner; and Hernâni Oliveira, Ph.D., CEO, BRIGHT Digital and 2017 C3 Prize Grand Prize winner.
Dr. Valeria Arango Vélez from Medellín, Colombia, and Lisa McKenzie from New Orleans, U.S., won the two Innovation Prizes. Vélez created a mind-body therapy app called Healing Presents, designed to help people to better cope with the daily emotional challenges of their cancer journey. McKenzie developed a virtual narrative therapy program through her organization You Night Empowering Events that brings together small groups of women impacted by cancer to share their stories, with an emphasis on emotional healing after treatment.
Along with the funding, all winners received a yearlong complimentary 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.
In addition to winning grants and resources, Dr. Salako joins a community of founders and entrepreneurs who share a passion to make life better for people impacted by cancer. Her story of innovation sparked by a personal experience isn’t uncommon; in fact, every previous C3 Prize Grand Prize winner, and many of the finalists, have lived through their own or a loved one’s cancer journey. Experiencing these challenges first-hand sparks the desire to ease the journey for others and, perhaps more importantly, highlight gaps and barriers in care.
Over the past five years, Astellas Oncology has awarded over $700,000 to 18 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.
It’s not too late to watch the virtual pitch event on the Astellas US Facebook page. Learn more about the three innovators and sign up for updates at www.C3Prize.com.