At South by Southwest this weekend, Novartis’ Sandoz hackathon judges were so impressed by the finalists that they named three winners instead of the planned one. The winners of Sandoz’s second Healthcare Access Challenge (HACk), and first at the Texas confab, spent three days in an accelerator program honing their digital solution ideas for access to healthcare before presenting to a panel of experts on Sunday.
The winners—Regulora, a digital therapeutic for IBS; SocialGenomics, a smart social network for rare disease patients; and Mobile Clinic, a door-to-door maternal healthcare service in Uganda—will each receive €20,000 and ongoing support from Sandoz experts on request.
“All three were so unique that we really couldn’t compare them against each other. It would have been unfair to announce one as better than the other because we were inspired and surprised by the depth of all three ideas,” said Andre Heeg, M.D., global head of digital at Sandoz, the generics division of Novartis.
He said there is no formal ongoing commitment or agreement between Sandoz and the winners, but the pharma company would offer support if any of the winners want it. The global call for entries resulted in more than 400 ideas from 80 different countries. The three finalists, and ultimately the winners, were chosen in January after the contest began in the fall.
Heeg, who joined Sandoz eight months ago, was also impressed by the interest and innovation around digital health at SXSW. It was his first visit to the festival, and he said he was surprised by the number of ideas around digital health. For instance, four of the 10 winners of the 11th annual SXSW Pitch contest were in health.
“The number of ideas in digital health was surprising to me. This is not just a trend, this is reality now with a lot of people doing key work on solutions in digital health,” he said. “Digital health is clearly at the top of the agenda of South by Southwest.”