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The Pistoia Alliance Calls for Greater Collaboration to Realise Benefits of Innovation and Announces Winners of the 2018 President’s Startup Challenge

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The Pistoia Alliance, a global, not for profit alliance that works to lower barriers to innovation in life sciences R&D, on 17th October announced the winners of its 2018 President’s Startup Challenge, at its annual member conference in Boston. The Alliance also called for greater collaboration between stakeholders to realise the potential of new innovations and translate the benefits to patients. The grand prize winner is Riffyn, with the audience vote winner named as Breast IT. The two were chosen from five finalists, shortlisted from 19 challenge entries from around the world. In his opening remarks to more than 200 attendees, Dr Steve Arlington, President of The Pistoia Alliance, explained that the Alliance has now doubled the number of start-up members to 50, and is also seeking to work with more charities and patient groups in the year ahead.


“I congratulate Riffyn and Breast IT on their wins and look forward to seeing how all five of these dynamic young firms develop. The innovations we have seen this year from all of our start-ups have been very impressive, and the potential for improving global health is significant,” commented Dr Arlington. “All of us in the life sciences community have a role to play in ensuring that the fruits of these startups’ labours can reach and impact patients, and we must join forces to achieve this. Against today’s challenging global economic and political backdrop, this kind of coming together is even more important. The core aim of the Alliance is to improve collaboration between life science stakeholders, and by working with each other, we can truly change the lives of patients around the world and open the door to more breakthrough discoveries.”


The morning keynote was delivered by Dr Jim Sullivan, VP of Discovery at AbbVie. Dr Sullivan reflected on the startup successes he has seen throughout his career, and the technological advances driving change in R&D; such as the huge leaps that gene-editing technology like CRISPR offer and the role a of AI in drug discovery. Noting that the challenges ahead are so complex that no single company will be able to deliver alone, Dr Sullivan reiterated the Alliance’s call for the life science industry to find more ways to work together and realise the transformative potential of innovation.


The afternoon keynote was delivered by Dr Sally John, VP of Genomics and Computational Biology at Biogen, and a previous winner of the Suffrage Science award. Dr John spoke about Biogen’s successful public-private collaboration with the Centre for Therapeutic Target Validation, to improve the success rate for discovering new medicines. As a champion of open innovation and collaboration, Dr John also communicated to the audience the need to identify which questions you are seeking to answer and accept that you cannot answer all of them alone, by recognising that working together is the future of science.


The President’s Challenge is an annual award that rewards informatics and technology focused startups aiming to impact the way life science R&D is performed and brings their innovative solutions to the attention of the wider life sciences and healthcare industry. The grand prize winner, Riffyn, was selected by a panel of seven industry judges, and the audience vote winner, Breast IT, was chosen by The Pistoia Alliance’s members, following a live ‘shark tank’ pitch. The day before the final pitching, all five finalists attended a support and coaching day with Pistoia Alliance members. The two winners each receive $15,000, six months mentorship and support from a leading industry expert, and access to Monocl’s stakeholder platform. All finalists receive $5,000, and one year’s membership to The Pistoia Alliance. More detail on the five finalists follows:


           Riffyn is an Oakland, CA. startup helping scientists to deliver reproducible research; its cloud-based Riffyn SDE structures and links experimental designs and data across R&D teams for real-time analytics, supporting artificial intelligence and machine learning.

           BreastIT is a Ugandan startup dedicated to improving the diagnosis and survival of breast cancer in Africa; it has developed a handheld, pocket-sized ultrasound system that empowers radiologists to make focused assessments and accelerate treatment decisions at the point of care.

           Unite Labs is a Swiss startup and software company employing the latest robotic and networking technologies to empower life scientists with accessible automation solutions; its tools can be used from anywhere at any time, and via mobile and remote platforms.

           uFraction8 is a Scottish startup providing downstream cell separation technology to help businesses achieve sustainability; it targets microbes like micro algae, yeast and bacteria, sorting biomass from a culture medium with no harmful high shear processes.

           Clarity Genomics is a Belgian start-up providing predictive analytics for microbiome drug discovery; its platform learns how human microbiome communities interact with the host to facilitate biomarker discovery, patient stratification and therapeutic response evaluation.


For more information on the Pistoia Alliance, please visit:

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