Astellas ‘app challenge’ aims to inspire future talent

pharmafile | December 4, 2014 | News story | Medical Communications, Sales and Marketing Astellas, CDF, CRUK, Ken Jones, app, my jar, stem 

Last week Astellas announced the winner of its Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) skills Innovation Challenge competition at an awards ceremony held in London.

The Japanese firm awarded St Paul’s Catholic College first prize for its ‘My Jar’ smartphone app, which is designed to help tackle some of the issues that contribute to poor mental wellbeing.

The competition gave teenage UK students the chance to become mobile designers and create their own healthy living app – with the winning team going on to have their app developed and made available via free download.

“The quality of entries for the Astellas Innovation Challenge was outstanding. Each team showed great awareness of real challenges to healthy living and true creativity in utilising mobile technology and innovation to create solutions,” said Rachel Riley, TV presenter and ambassador to the Astellas Innovation Challenge.

Addressing the finalists was Dr Kevin Fong, the campaign ambassador of the Astellas challenge who said: “It really isn’t about all the prizes, the main thing about being here today is the incredible things you’ve all done, incredible things you’ve achieved, I hope it’ll launch you all forward into greater things I feel that’s all in store for all of you.”

Following the ceremony Pharmafile sat down with Ken Jones, president and chief executive of Astellas Pharma Europe to speak about the competition, and of course the pharma industry itself.

Jones explained to us that the objective of the Innovation Challenge was to try to stir interest in the STEM subjects. “Innovation is what’s really important to us, the future generation is even more important.

“Mobile apps’ ability to motivate and inspire the 200 applicant schools that applied made it more accessible and helped to promote the STEM subjects because they’re our future innovators”.

Wider concerns regarding cancer treatment

We quizzed Jones on another topical subject, that of the UK Cancer Drugs Fund. He said that it’s good for patients to have that vehicle and that “ultimately we need to get to a place where we can ideally harmonise how we determine the value of something”.

Jones continued: “It’ll be great if we could get a consistency of how we want to value drugs, the challenges we have is we need to recognise that some of our own values are the downstream costs, problem is you have to pay this up front to get it.

“I think there has to be equilibrium somewhere where we can ensure that innovation continues at the same time it’s a question of affordability and the access to patients.”

Earlier this year Astellas announced it is joining forces with Cancer Research UK in the fight against cancer. The Japanese drug giant is conducting a two-year research programme to find new drug targets for pancreatic cancer.

Since May of last year Astellas has been focussing on reshaping its R&D framework which has included the launch of its Innovation Management division (AIM) to acquire external opportunities in the pre-clinical stage.

Jones said: “It’s about making sure we’re focussing on the right diseases and making sure our product is making a difference. I think you can’t just have marginal improvements anymore there really needs to be step-wise improvements.”

On the recent statement made by George Freeman the minister for life sciences, where he declared the government’s plans to cut the time it takes for life-saving drugs to become available through the NHS – Jones added that this needs to be very much disease-dependent.

“The benefit risk is very important and you have certain diseases where there are very few or limited medications, so I think it needs to be chosen very wisely,” he said.

“The most important thing of course is patient health and welfare, you don’t want to cut short things so we need to make sure that they’re safe and effective and for some conditions that bar is very different. I think disease dependent is really critical, it’ll benefit the patients and that’s the most important thing.”

Tom Robinson

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