Start-ups Meet Pharma Cohort 2021 – The Merck challenge

Challenge #3 set by Merck focuses on digital remote monitoring and support solutions for MS patients.

18 startups from Germany, Austria, UK, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Ireland, Poland, Italy, Finland, Greece, Spain, Estonia and Israel have been selected for the Startups Meet Pharma 2021 cohort. This year, five challenges have been released in collaboration with five EIT Health Partners: Abbott, Amgen, AstraZeneca, Merck and Takeda.

Let’s take a closer look at Challenge #3:

Digital remote monitoring & support solutions for patients living with Multiple Sclerosis by Merck

The key focus of the challenge is digital remote monitoring and support solutions for patients with MS. Merck are looking for solutions for monitoring disease evolution, the patient’s quality of life and/or supporting patients to manage symptoms and maintain high adherence to therapies based on oral medication. The ultimate goal is to then use these solutions for marketed drugs in a real-world environment and during clinical trials.

A total of 31 applications were received for the challenge, with the following start-ups being selected: BreakthroughX Health GmbH (Germany), Icometrix (Belgium), ExactCure (France), FIMO (Germany):

Let’s find out more about their individual solutions:

BreakthroughX Health GmbH

Your solution to the challenge: Emilyn is the #1 app for MS, and helps people track symptoms and symptom triggers. Reports can be shared with care teams or investigators. Emilyn has medication and appointment reminders, preparation tools, adherence tracking features and a chat feature that can be used for care support. We aim to develop a smartphone-based assessment based on validated patient-reported outcome instruments and in addition develop tests for walking and cognition that closely resemble or mirror assessments like the EDSS and MSFC.

What makes it a good fit? We already have the highest-ranked and rated app for MS. We already offer patient monitoring for MS, as well as medication reminders to improve adherence. Our solutions can be used for both marketed drugs in the real world, as well as during clinical trials, including decentralised clinical trials – a topic we’re really passionate about.

Major expectations from the programme: To build a relationship with key multiple sclerosis stakeholders at Merck, understand their digital strategy for MS for commercial and research, and learn how we can support them. Ultimately, we would love to enter into a commercial partnership to support Merck in monitoring MS patients in care and research and improve digital patient support.

The long-term vision for your startup: Our vision is to become a leading digital patient experience platform, where people living with chronic diseases are at the centre of their care and research. We aim to become leading experts in patient-reported outcomes and monitoring in different disease domains. We envisage a platform with disease-specific patient support modules which will include therapy-specific support and personalised advice.



Your solution to the challenge: icompanion is a digital companion for PwMS that offers day-to-day health monitoring. The app allows them to track their symptoms, diary notes, mood, treatments, and QoL PROs focused on cognition and fatigue. It also offers treatment reminders to improve adherence and curated educational content to educate and empower PwMS. icompanion uniquely allows for PwMS to upload, view, and understand their MRI scans, and share them with their MS care team, thus facilitating communication with the MS care team, beyond routine clinical visits.

What makes it a good fit? The icompanion core team is part of the icometrix family which is an interdisciplinary, global driven to make a meaningful impact on patients’ outcome; by improving and enhancing patient care. We have focused on MS in particular for the past 10 years, since the start of icometrix, and this passion has brought us from the imaging side closer to PwMS with our patient companion app.

Major expectations from the programme: We expect great value from this project, mainly through expert advice on how to further build both the product and business case of icompanion. This will be beneficial as we are entering new terrain with icometrix, coming from a medical imaging environment. The most value we see in getting interaction with Merck and other pharma companies on how we can further define our product roadmap and keep our ambitions in healthcare in sync with the needs in pharma without needing to create two independent business cases.

The long-term vision for your startup: Medium- and long-term objectives are to ensure further value creation through the collection of structured patient data (Big Data) and future sales of predictive models used in both healthcare and clinical research. The long-term goal of icompanion is to enable personalized medicine for PwMS, based on these predictive models fed by reliable and objective clinical and imaging data.



Your solution to the challenge: ExactCure assists MS patients and their healthcare professionals with treatment personalisation as well as promotes adherence and enhances engagement with their treatments. Healthcare professionals can personalise drug regimens via a web-based simulator that integrates official recommendations and state-of-the-art publications. Patients, on the other hand, will use our already-developed mobile app or a novel white-label app to keep track of their treatment, to improve their adherence and to monitor disease progression.

What makes it a good fit? Patients will be able to input if they are experiencing symptoms or adverse events, which can be used to track and manage disease progression and quality of life. Thanks to reminders, patients will enhance their compliance to treatment. Interestingly, we can go even further with the personalisation of medication treatments, which will allow us to verify and maintain therapeutic efficacy, thus helping patients avoid underdoses, overdoses and drug-drug interactions. Additionally, we could aim to simulate and predict therapeutic efficacy profiles in the course of MS progression, thanks to RWD collection.

Major expectations from the programme: Participating in this accelerator programme is a great opportunity to continue to establish ExactCure in the healthcare industry, and more importantly the pharmaceutical sector. It will allow us to start building relationships with key stakeholders from Merck and discussing their specific needs and pain points. Our goal is to develop, together with Merck, a project which could benefit MS patients with the management of their disease. Additionally, EIT Health and Merck can provide us with the excellent ecosystem and resources that we need to continue to develop.

The long-term vision for your startup: Our ambition is to become the world leader in the personalised bio-modelling of medicines. We want individuals, anywhere in the world, suffering from acute or chronic diseases to use our personalized
drug simulations to improve their health outcomes and to feel empowered



Your solution to the challenge: We are developing a solution for MS-related fatigue that uses smartphone and smartwatch sensor technology to collect various vital and environmental factors from patients. Within our app, scientifically based tests & questionnaires (e.g. SDMT or SF-12) are also used. We evaluate the collected data and quantify the fatigue. The insights help patients to proactively manage their fatigue and doctors to improve their anamnesis.

What makes it a good fit? Our solution is based on Big Data and modern scientific methods, as we strongly believe that this is the best way to identify disease progression. In addition, we put the patient at the centre of our solution with the course elements around MS and fatigue (which is one of the biggest unmet medical needs in MS), which is supported by state-of-the-art design, gamification and elements of cognitive behavioural therapy and acceptance and commitment therapy.

Major expectations from the programme: We believe that the programme will help us to work on further features of our solution (e.g. fatigue measurement via eye recognition or voice analysis) but also to benefit from Merck’s expertise in the MS area, e.g. marketing & sales or go-2-market.

The long-term vision for your startup: With our data and artificial intelligence, we want to be able to provide valid therapy and medication recommendations in the long term that are individually tailored to a single patient in the area of stratified health care, based on scientific methods and digital biomarkers developed by us. Our app is intended to be the hub for patients, physicians and other stakeholders (e.g. pharmaceutical companies or health insurance companies) for the treatment of MS.