New $100M Challenge Fund Seeks to Spark Cancer Innovation

This article published with permission from The Burrill Report.

General Electric and a group of high-profile venture capital partners have joined forces to back a $100 million “open innovation” challenge aimed at accelerating the detection of breast cancer and enabling more personalized treatment.

In tandem with the challenge, GE has committed to invest $1 billion in its own cancer detection and treatment technologies R&D over five years. But it doesn’t hesitate to admit that its global network of experts doesn’t have all the answers.

“We know that somewhere somebody has a piece of the puzzle that we’re looking for in turning cancer into a chronic disease,” says Lisa Kennedy, director of strategic marketing for GE’s Healthymagination initiative. Cancer research is at a tipping point, with the potential for us to learn more in the next five years than we learned in the past 20 years combined, she says. “There’s a huge opportunity for collaboration.”

GE and its investment partners — Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers, Venrock, Mohr Davidow and MPM Capital — have committed to put as much as $100 million behind ideas focused on helping health care professionals better understand triple negative cancer pathways and the molecular similarities between breast cancer and other solid tumors.

The venture capital partners are important, Kennedy says because of the expertise they can offer around bringing in great ideas and understanding which ones are going to be successful for commercialization.

The contest, called the Healthymagination Challenge, is part of GE’s broader commitment to investing in new cancer detection technologies, and will be paired with a special focus on data collection, with GE planning to build a database to consolidate clinical, pathology, and therapy and outcomes data to enable analysis by leading cancer research, NGO, and government organizations.

It is modeled after the success of another GE program, the Ecomagination Challenge, in which GE solicited the best ideas on how to build the next-generation power grid. That challenge built a network of thousands of researchers generating innovative ideas for energy infrastructure projects. That no one has pursued the same model until now for molecular diagnostics is remarkable, Kennedy says.

Because inadequate technology is only part of the problem behind insufficient cancer screening globally, GE is starting a three-year partnership with Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Komen is the largest source of nonprofit funds dedicated to fighting breast cancer in the world. Together, the partners will work to get raise awareness and availability of breast cancer screening technology in the United States, Saudi Arabia, China, and Australia.

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