The Astellas Way Blog

Telling the Stories That Matter

Aug 26, 2019

By Mark Reisenauer

Conventional wisdom tells us that each time we do something, it should get a little easier. I have to say, that’s not the case in evaluating entries for our fourth annual 2019 Astellas Oncology C3 (Changing Cancer Care) Prize.

Year after year, C3 Prize entrants exceed our expectations and seem impossible to match, and this year’s applications are no exception. Along with the other judges, I’m reviewing ideas that are unique, thought-provoking and potentially game-changing. When it comes to selecting our 2019 C3 Prize Winners, I know we have our work cut out for us.

During this period of reviewing these new and inspiring ideas, I have also been reflecting on how far each of our previous winners have come since winning the C3 Prize – bringing their ideas to fruition to improve the lives of those impacted by cancer.

Relieving Mental and Physical Stress through Virtual Reality Applications

“While working at a large U.S. cancer center, I could see how patients from other countries were stressed: they were far from home, they had other cultural habits, they often did not understand anything their doctors were saying, or information flyers, consent videos — I could see them stressing so much more than people who are treated in their own culture and own language,” said Diane Jooris, MS, LCDC-I, J.D., 2016 Grand Prize winner and intervention specialist.

The unnecessary stress these patients faced during their care made Diane realize the need for a solution to relieve their stress and help treat people in different cultures and languages. This was the basis from which she founded Oncomfort, a health-tech company that uses virtual reality systems to help patients by providing anxiety and pain self-management tools.

Since pitching Oncomfort and winning the C3 Prize, Diane has overseen the development of five virtual reality-based applications to improve care and treatment efficacy for cancer patients. The company has treated over 10,000 patients with almost 2,000 patients enrolled in its clinical trials.

One of the tools that Oncomfort offers is Stella, a hypnotherapeutic application, which uses immersion to distract young cancer patients during short anxiety-triggering procedures such as an IV start, blood draw or port flush. While cancer and gaming technology may seem worlds apart, the virtual reality applications have created a new world for international and multilingual cancer patients from many continents including Europe, North America, South America and Asia.

The advice she would give to this year’s Prize Finalists? “Motivation is key. The willingness to make an impact. More than anything else. And I would also say the ability to let go of tasks for which you have no skills, and delegate to people who are excellent in the things you are not good at.”

Creating Interactive Resources to Make Cancer Care and Diagnosis for Children Straightforward

For a child, cancer can be scary, stressful, and confusing. In 2017, Hernâni Oliveira, Ph.D., pitched his idea of developing a two-part virtual reality app to help solve common issues faced by children with cancer and their parents.

His idea was to create a video game for mobile devices that tells the story of a child who fights cancer as a superhero. The game educates the children about cancer and is intended to promote exercise and reduce anxiety during medical examinations. Being a parent or caregiver for a child with cancer is also no easy feat, and so the second part of the app is an educational resource for parents to learn more about cancer and strategies to support their child.

Hernâni was awarded the Grand Prize in 2017 and is currently preparing to launch his final product, which will be available to the Portuguese public by the end of 2019. Ultimately, he plans to make the application available internationally and increase its impact on a global scale.

Hernâni also remains closely involved with the C3 Prize. This year, Hernâni is lending his expertise to the C3 Prize as a judge for the second year, evaluating the great ideas from applicants to select the Finalists and Grand Prize winner.

Providing an Authentic Voice to Breast Cancer Patients in Africa

Ebele Mbanugo, M.D., is not only the C3 Grand Prize Winner from 2018, but also is the founder of the growing organization Run for a Cure Africa, which she started to make a difference in her community in Nigeria and beyond.

After her mother and two aunts were diagnosed with cancer, Ebele saw firsthand how, while the breast cancer journey is unique for each patient, many patients experience common challenges and concerns. She was driven to create an organization that eliminated barriers to breast cancer screening and provided meaningful education around misunderstanding and myths.

Ebele entered the C3 Prize with an idea to help educate her community through storytelling. “I found that in Nigeria, if you pass information along through a story, it sticks with people better than just giving them information,” she said. “When a survivor speaks about how they overcame challenges, there’s a strong likelihood that it will help someone on their cancer journey.”

Through winning the C3 Prize in 2018, Ebele was able to create her radio show, “The Patient Navigator,” to provide authenticity and a voice to patients and address common challenges about breast cancer and treatment methods in Nigeria. And in the Fall of 2019, the first season of the radio show will be live on the radio and online.

Looking to the future, Ebele hopes to turn her audio series into a research study and use the outcomes to better develop communication and intervention strategies with patients, not just in Nigeria, but in other West African countries.

Her advice to Finalists is simple, “At the end of the day, it’s about impact. You have to be able to articulate how your idea will make it.”

The Journey to Make Every Day Better

Our winners have been able to help those with cancer in ways we never could have imagined on our own. Their successes inspire us to evolve and grow the program to foster even more entrepreneurship and innovation, connecting C3 Prize winners to tools and resources to help them develop and advance their idea.

As a judge for this year’s C3 Prize, my journey to get to know our 2019 applicants and their inspiring ideas is just beginning. I look forward to sharing their stories and successes as we announce our Finalists and Emerging Idea Prize winner.

Making every day better for people impacted by cancer is the heart of Astellas Oncology and the C3 Prize. It may not always be easy – but it is certainly meaningful.

Visit for more information about the Astellas Oncology C3 Prize and to stay up to date on the latest developments.