Foot Drop Device Earns Innovation Challenge Prize

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by Mary Chapman |

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As winner of the Lyfebulb and Bristol Myers Squibb Innovation Challenge in multiple sclerosis (MS), Evolution Devices will use the $25,000 in prize money to further develop a smart stimulation therapy that seeks to improve patient mobility.

The innovative electrical device under development by Pierluigi Mantovani, co-founder and DEO of Evolution Devices, combines artificial intelligence with proprietary software to ease a common condition in MS known as “foot drop,” which is caused by ankle weakness largely due to a slowing or block in communication between nerves in the brain and the foot.

Addressing Unmet Needs in MS: An Innovation Challenge was held virtually March 10–11 and was open to entrepreneurs who were inspired by a personal connection to MS to develop solutions.

The patient empowerment platform Lyfebulb partners with industry sponsors — Bristol Myers Squibb, in this particular innovation challenge — to support user-driven innovation. Entrepreneurs gain exposure to leading companies in their disease sector, which may result in collaborations.

Ten finalists were chosen to pitch their solutions to a panel of independent multidisciplinary judges, including MS experts. Proposed solutions included wearable devices, transportation accessibility services, exercise and strength training programs, functional accessories, and social efforts that promote inclusion.

Honorable mentions went to Lucy Jones, of lifestyle company FFORA, who offered a suite of wheelchair-attachable products, and to Tish Scolnik, of the social enterprise GRIT, who entered the company’s adaptive all-terrain wheelchairs.

“The degree of impact of the solutions presented by applicants at this year’s challenge was extremely high and we would like to congratulate all those working to improve the lives of those affected by MS,” Karin Hehenberger, MD, PhD, Lyfebulb founder and CEO, said in a press release.

“We thank the judges for making this difficult decision in selecting the winner, and hope all entrepreneurs are inspired by the collaborative sessions in this Innovative Challenge to continue on their quest to bring forth solutions to ease the burden of living with chronic disease,” Hehenberger added.

Evolution Devices seeks to help people with MS and other neurological disorders walk better and with more confidence through Mantovani’s remote physical therapy program that features a smart nerve-stimulation wearable device. He was motivated to build the product to help his father, who has MS, walk better.

Foot drop occurs when a person cannot lift their toes normally when taking a step. Rather, they drop, dragging on the ground. Foot drop makes it more likely that patients trip and fall while walking, particularly on uneven surfaces such as stairs.

Many people compensate by lifting their foot higher when walking, but this becomes tiring and can lead to back and hip pain, and may make patients even more unstable. Foot drop also can make other aspects of everyday life more challenging, including driving.

“At Bristol Myers Squibb, patients are at the heart of everything we do. The caliber of entries and the ingenuity they represent exemplifies the importance of sourcing solutions from those with the most intimate knowledge of multiple sclerosis — people with this disease and their loved ones,” said Tina Deignan, senior vice president and U.S. business unit head of immunology at Bristol Myers Squibb.

“This partnership with Lyfebulb represents one of many with the MS community and we are truly appreciative of all the time donated from those who submitted entries and the esteemed panel of judges,” Deignan said.

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